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New WSU certificate program aims to give students grounding in public health

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 9, 2018, 11:40 a.m.

WSU's Spokane-based College of Nursing recently was recognized as a "Center of Excellence" in nursing education, one of 15 cited by the National League for Nursing. Dean Joyce Griffin-Sobel heads up the College of Nursing. Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU's Spokane-based College of Nursing recently was recognized as a "Center of Excellence" in nursing education, one of 15 cited by the National League for Nursing. Dean Joyce Griffin-Sobel heads up the College of Nursing. Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University is launching a public health certificate program for graduate students.

Run out of the Spokane-based College of Nursing, the 12-credit program allows grad students at any of the university’s campuses to study the foundations of public health through courses in epidemiology, health care law and a community-based capstone project.

It will begin this fall, although students currently enrolled in health programs will be able to count courses they’ve taken toward the certificate.

WSU isn’t creating any new classes for the certificate, said Denise Smart, an associate professor at the College of Nursing, who is one of the faculty behind the effort.

The program is like a minor, open to students who want to add a public health component to whatever else they’re studying, whether that’s nursing, medicine or health policy.

“We’re just integrating students into a cohort of courses that fit well in general public health,” Smart said.

Sheena Denney, a nursing graduate student at WSU’s Puyallup, Washington, extension, said she’s planning to get the certificate and will start her capstone project later this month.

Her background is in hospital nursing and acute care, but she said she wants to go into public health and work on pollution and environmental justice issues.

Her master’s degree requires a final paper, but the public health project lets her work in the community. She’ll be working on a study with Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander families in Tacoma on the impacts of household air pollution and toxins on health, helping WSU and University of Washington Tacoma researchers.

Families will get a chance to document their homes and record how they believe their environments could be healthier, creating a final exhibit that will be presented to policymakers and other stakeholders.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” Denney said.

Just doing a master’s in nursing wouldn’t have given her the same hands-on experience with public health research, she added.

Cory Edwards, a master’s in health policy student and member of the Air National Guard’s 242nd Combat Communications Squadron, said he’d like to work in hospital leadership after graduating.

He’s also pursuing the public health certificate and will do his capstone project over the summer, educating seniors about health topics such as flu prevention.

“It will give an administrator better awareness of the community,” Edwards said.

Students who just want the certificate in public health will be able to apply to WSU starting in the spring and pay per credit for the courses, Smart said. A fall or spring graduate-level nursing credit costs $890, and a summer credit costs $510.

Smart said students pursuing the certificate could be a resource for local health districts and other agencies that could benefit from having students help with projects.

Bob Lutz, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District, said it also would help develop a health workforce with more awareness of what public health is.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said.

Smart has a doctorate in public health and said she’d like to see a master’s of public health program at WSU, although she stressed the university has no plans to do that in the near future.

Developing a specific public health program would require accreditation and investment, unlike the certificate. But she said the certificate lays the groundwork if WSU ever wanted to create a public health degree.

“It’s one step closer if we were looking long-term down the road,” she said.


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