Accreditation raises the caliber of MU’s new public health program

Saturday, October 30, 2010 | 3:53 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As soon as MU’s first Master of Public Health graduates accepted their degrees, program officials began vying for accreditation. This week, their efforts came to fruition.

The master’s program was initiated in 2007, and was eligible to apply for accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health immediately following the graduation of its first class. This week, the program announced its recognition by the council, and has received the maximum allowed accreditation, a five-year term, valid until December 2015.

Graduates from MU’s and other public health programs work to set up health-related programs on the local, statewide and national levels rather than helping individual patients. Hagglund said that public health is interdisciplinary and practitioners may work in a variety of sectors, including with public health departments, senior services, and outreach and education initiatives.

A master’s degree in public health does not require that one graduate from an accredited program to work in the field, and programs are not required to be reviewed by the council. However, program director Kristofer Hagglund said receiving accreditation helps to substantiate the caliber of MU’s degree.

“It’s a recognition of the quality of the program,” Hagglund said. “We’re committed to addressing the core principals of public health and improving the health and well-being of its communities.”

MU’s Master of Public Health is the second accredited program of its kind in Missouri, and the only one at a public university. Saint Louis University’s program is accredited, Missouri State University is considering applying for accreditation, and the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University is in the process of applying, Hagglund said.

Lise Saffran, associate director of the program, said graduate public health programs have recently been sprouting up around the country because of  their intrinsic value.

“People are beginning to recognize that health issues are economic issues,” Saffran said. “In general, preventing health care problems is much more cost effective than treating them.”

Graduates who work in public health in Missouri have their work cut out for them, Saffran said. Not only is the state’s public health workforce aging, but a number of public health indicators such as chronic diseases, obesity and tobacco usage aren’t faring well on a national level. Missouri is one of nine states with an obesity rate of more than 30 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There is a lot of need, but also a lot of opportunity for people who want a career in public health,” Saffran said.

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