Pandemic fuels interest in public health education, careers

UofL sees 34% increase in students choosing to major in public health Pandemic fuels interest in public health education, careers

David A. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., C.P.H., upper left, teaches a public health course in a socially distanced classroom at the University of Louisville.

Public health workers are among those on the frontlines addressing COVID-19, igniting a new awareness about the profession. The interest is leading many to either begin or advance their public health education. Enrollment in the discipline at the University of Louisville is up compared to 2019, with a 34% increase in students pursing an undergraduate degree in public health. 

It is the largest percentage surge for any baccalaureate degree at UofL this year. The School of Public Health and Information Sciences also is experiencing a 19.5% rise in the number of students seeking graduate education. 

And, the growth is happening not only at UofL. Data on academic public health admissions from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health annual data, along with a public health education enrollment database known as SOPHAS, show a 20% uptick in applications over the same time last year.

Craig Blakely, Ph.D., M.P.H., dean of the school, says with public health officials in the daily news, more people are seeing firsthand the importance of the work related to preventing, detecting and responding to viral outbreaks.  

“The vast majority of the population is starting to see the wisdom of investing in public health infrastructure. I think there’s no question of an expansion in opportunity for our students on the horizon,” he said.

Now in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Blakely says some students are choosing the discipline because they feel a calling to make a difference.  

Maymie Owens will graduate in December with a bachelor of science in public health.

“I love everything about public health because it covers all areas of life and can help make changes in your own city, state or even globally,” she said. “You will look at your own life and the lives of those around you differently, in a way that I don't think any other major could give or show you.” 

Locally, UofL students have been a part of the effort to combat COVID-19 as contact tracers where they make phone calls to positive cases and close contacts, providing education and information on up-to-date isolation safety measures and guidelines. 

"Our students are gaining incredible experience for their future public health careers. This work is a resume builder for the students, some of whom earn practicum or capstone experience credit. More importantly, it is crucial to helping our community fight COVID-19,” Blakely said.

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