Northern Arizona University is hoping to attract more people to practice public health in the rural areas of Northern Arizona with a new master’s degree program.
The university’s Department of Health Sciences is currently taking applications for the two new programs in nutrition and health promotion, said Dawn Clifford, an associate professor of health sciences and the director of the new programs. The idea is to attract medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses and nutritionists, as well as students currently getting their undergraduate degree, who are looking at careers in the public health sphere. These are professionals and students who want to work in communities that may be underserved in terms of access to medical treatment, such as rural communities and the Native American nations, she said.
The creation of the two degree programs has been in the works for the last couple years, but it was only recently that Clifford, an NAU grad, was hired to set up the program. She had to consolidate the information from about 30 different syllabi into two programs in six months.
The nutrition degree is designed to be completed in as little as two years, she said. The program is designed for dietitians who want to go one step farther with their education and training. Students graduating from this program are looking to possibly work as the head of a nutrition department in a hospital, food service, or community setting. They would be the brains behind creating a nutrition program that would meet the nutrition and medical needs of patients and clients. The program was recently accepted as a Future Education Model for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Clifford is particularly excited about the new health promotion degree program.
“This will be one of the only public health degree programs in Northern Arizona,” she said. “It’s really needed here because of the rural communities that we have and the health disparities that we have between those communities, especially in the tribal lands.”
It was created for those medical professionals and students who are interested in working in communities rather than in a medical office or hospital, although they may work there too, Clifford said. They would be working with the community to design and implement a plan that would educate on topics like healthy eating, quitting smoking, treating substance abuse and managing chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. They may work in clinics, hospitals or for state or local public health departments.
The health promotions degree also has a concentration in indigenous health, Clifford said. These classes will focus on the specific health and cultural needs of Northern Arizona’s and other areas Native American populations.
“It’s really exciting to be able to train those who live in Northern Arizona in this so they can go back home and help their own communities,” she said.
Students in both graduate level programs will have to complete several hours of classwork, research, a graduate project and an internship, Clifford said. For example, nutrition graduate interns would have to complete a six-month internship working about 40 hours a week in a clinical or food service program, such as a hospital.
Interns in the health promotion program would have the opportunity to work in a number of different settings during their degree program and may complete more than one internship, she said.
The university is already working on creating partnerships with local organizations looking for interns, Clifford said. Students interested in the programs have until Feb. 15 to apply. Classes in the two programs will start in the fall.