Human health is influenced by factors ranging from food access to social policy and personal exercise. The bachelor of science in public health degree program prepares students to bring a holistic understanding of human health to a variety of careers.
Previously known as health education and promotion, the Oklahoma State University bachelor of science degree was recently renamed to public health to better reflect the degree’s broad approach to health. The degree incorporates courses like biology and chemistry, while also including behavioral science and theory-based courses. Students have the opportunity to choose between two options: community health and exercise and health.
“Public health involves looking at large-scale population health and how community factors can shape individuals’ decisions,” said Dr. Bridget Miller, Joan Donelson Jacques Endowed Professor of Health Promotion. “We're teaching our students a really applicable skill set for many different populations.”
For students like Kaitlyn Potter, studying the community health option of the public health degree, this provides a sense of meaning to her career.
“I chose public health because I believe health is a human right,” Potter said. “I want to be able to help people by preventing problems before they start.”
Miller says public health graduates can go to medical and graduate school or jump straight into the workforce. They are equipped to provide the three tenets of public health: prevention, protection and promotion.
“A public health professional may ask more community-focused questions like, ‘Why do people exercise?’” Miller said. “'Is it because they have access to green space? Is it because they feel safe or they feel motivated to do it?’”
Whether students go on to nursing and physical therapy school or jump straight into the workforce, the soft skills public health students learn, coupled with their technical science courses, equip them to bring an inclusive approach to their work.
“Health professionals must be able to work with populations different from the one they represent,” Miller said. “Our students learn to relate to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.”
To gain more community-based, real world experience, every OSU public health undergraduate student completes a 400-hour internship. Students have traveled abroad to countries including South Africa, Cuba and Thailand and interned domestically in programs ranging from corporate wellness and fitness-based programs to retirement communities and health departments.
Recently, public health major Sara Watson interned with the American Indian Research Group, creating webinars, infographics and resource guides about the coronavirus pandemic. Watson completed the community health option of the public health degree.
“As an aspiring epidemiologist, this was a wonderful opportunity,” Watson said. “My OSU classes were especially helpful, as they highlighted individual, community and environmental health.”
Miller adds OSU public health faculty are especially supportive of students exploring their interests.
“We're particularly proud of our faculty’s diverse training,” Miller said. “I may provide case studies from an exercise perspective, but other faculty have expertise in health communication, sexual health and psychological health.”
Students also gain the flexibility of pursuing classes on both the OSU-Tulsa and Stillwater campuses. In both locations, faculty and staff are equipped to provide many hands-on opportunities.
“Our faculty are very invested in student success and helping them find their way in this field,” Miller said. “Whether it’s supervising research, helping connect students to job opportunities or simply bringing passion to the classroom, our faculty are hands-on for student success.”
For students like John Gardner, pursuing the exercise and health option of the public health degree provides a bright future.
“This degree offers a platform for many different career paths,” Gardner said. “It is a gateway and introduction to many healthcare specialties.”
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