Fort Lewis College News

News at Fort Lewis College

New Public Health program creates fast track to jobs bettering communities

The new Public Health program, which started in Fall 2010, gives students the choice of five different tracks, or
concentrations of study: Allied Health, Media, Native American, Psychosocial, or Public Health Practice.

In a time when more and more people find themselves unable to afford health care and do the things needed to have healthy families, there is a growing demand for professionals trained in the field of public health.

And since creating the first Public Health undergraduate-degree program in Colorado, Fort Lewis leads the way in meeting that demand. After its first year, enrollment is already almost 300 percent above the program's goals.

Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research into disease and injury prevention. It's different from regular medicine because it's preventative: the goal is to teach and train people to keep themselves healthy so they don't have to go to the medical side of treatment.

"Focusing on community-based education and programs is a much more cost-effective way of delivering healthcare and getting a good result," says Biology Professor Shere Byrd. "So there's a movement now on the state level to require people working at state public health facilities to have academic credentials in the Public Health field. But there aren't many undergraduate programs in Public Health out there, which means our students will be infinitely more marketable."

If demand is an indicator, then it seems students are excited about FLC's new Public Health degree, as well. The program launched in the Fall 2010, and in just two semesters it already has 38 majors. "The goal after our first year was 10 majors," says Byrd, who spearheaded the creation of the program, "which shows there's an interest and a need."

A degree in Public Health is also good for students who are excited to get actively involved in the field quickly, says Byrd. "What we're doing is creating options for students outside of mainstream medicine where they can be involved in the health of their communities without going through the rigors of a medical degree," she explains.

A major in Public Health is a mix of fields, including medicine, economics, sociology, anthropology, mathematics, communications, and psychology. The program culminates in a public-health service-learning experience.

"When students get hands-on experience, they get job skills," explains Public Health Director Connie Kitchens. "Students gain a lot more in internships than if they're just sitting in lectures. You can tell them what the real world is like, but they have to experience it to really know."

Soon there will be even more ways for students to find their path in the Public Health field. Byrd and Kitchens are now developing a pathway for Fort Lewis Public Health students to matriculate directly into a Master's program in Public Health at the University of Northern Colorado.

Also, plans are in the works to expand the Public Health program to offer a degree in Environmental Health, a more science- and math-intensive branch of Public Health that will offer the much of the same core curriculum, but will focus on applied sciences such as such as air and water quality monitoring and soils testing.

"If you have this kind of Public Health training that society is looking for and needs," says Kitchens, "whether you choose to work or go on to graduate school, you'll be one step above someone who doesn't have that experience."

On the cutting edge of public health
by Dan Hoff, P.A. in the Student Health Center

Dan Hoff proudly wears his
"I survived the Measles Quarantine"
t-shirt from 1988.

There was a measles epidemic at Fort Lewis in January of 1988. Our first case happened right before Christmas break. As soon as we got back we were notified by the state that there may be more coming. It ended up that over a 2 1/2 month period we had 88 cases of measles on campus. The state health department came in and quarantined the school which meant that everybody that was on campus had to be immunized against the measles. It restricted a lot of athletic events, plays; all outside events were pretty well curtailed. Though we'd never faced that kind of epidemic problem before we were somewhat prepared in that a couple years before we had started a pre-matriculation, immunization requirements for both types of measles and so most of our student body had been immunized prior to the epidemic happening. I think there were only about a 120 students that weren't immunized that we had to get hold of during that first week in January.

Other schools, CSU, UNC, Colorado School of Mines, Metro had at least a few cases but none got out of hand like ours did, partly because one of our first cases was what they call a "super spreader." He wasn't very sick so he went to a lot of events. He went to basketball games. He went to classes. He just went around spreading the measles. He was probably responsible for the main mushroom of our epidemic.

Two doctors from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) came to campus and stayed for over 1 month. They interviewed students, both sick and well, and had a double blinded study of a large measles outbreak in a population of mostly previously immunized students. The conclusion of the study which was published in the journal of public health was that one immunization against measles was not enough to provide immunity. Within a year, CDC recommended the 2 immunizations against measles and rubella and mumps, the policy that is still followed today. National Geographic magazine was working on a story of the doctors of the CDC entitled “Germ Fighters.” A writer/photographer from the magazine came to FLC. He took many pictures and 2 photos were in the magazine. One was of the CDC doctor interviewing a patient with measles and another of the 88 students who had measles on campus all lined up in the bleachers.

Learn more about the Public Health program here.

Or contact Public Health Director Connie Kitchens at or (970) 247-7396.

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