May 29, 2012 | Myrna Anderson

The new interdisciplinary major prepares students for careers and graduate study in public health.

Once word got around that Calvin was creating a major in public health, biology professor Arlene Hoogewerf started seeing the interest. “Students were dropping by my office,” she said. An informational meeting on the new program drew a decent-sized crowd. And several students began taking the courses required for the new major in advance of its creation.

There have always been a sizeable number of Calvin students interested in healthcare, said economics professor Scott Vander Linde: “They didn’t want to be doctors, nurses, dentists.” They wanted to engage in the broader field of public healthcare: the science of improving the health of the community through education, lifestyle improvement and disease prevention.

The new public health major will equip students to work in a broad range of public health careers: health-services administration; biomedical laboratory work and biostatistics; health education/behavioral science; public-health practice/program management; epidemiology; environmental health; nutrition and international health.

An interdisciplinary field

Hoogewerf, Vander Linde and Cheryl Brandsen, Calvin’s dean for social sciences and contextual disciplines, are the three principal architects of the new major, which pulls together a broad range of disciplines: biology, nursing, environmental studies, sociology, social work, kinesiology, computer science, political science, economics, international development studies and philosophy.

"Healthcare is becoming much more interdisciplinary, and more of it is focused on public health," said Brandsen. "You have to be able to work in the policy arena and in economics. You have to understand healthcare disparities. You have to understand ethical issues. When we started to talk about the courses that would make a solid major, we realized we already had a lot of the courses here,” she said. “It’s such a fit with a liberal arts program.”

Students will be able to tailor the program to their needs. “Public Health graduates could pursue graduate programs and earn an MPH or DPH, but they could also enter the workplace and work in health administration, biostatistics, epidemiology, health education, environmental health, biomedical laboratories and more," said Hoogewerf.

A public health intern

Junior Lydia Doublestein, a public health major, is interning at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan this summer, shadowing doctors and nurses and learning how to improve the health of communities like Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

Doublestein hopes the experience will help her to establish a career as a midwife. “The field of midwifery has attracted me. It’s a field I want to explore in a couple of years. Just the philosophy of care: it’s more women-focused,” she said. “Midwifery is as much about the mother as it is about the baby, and I think that’s really important.” Eventually, Doublestein hopes to get her master’s in midwifery and practice.

In addition to the new major, Calvin will also offer a 23-credit minor in public health. The minor allows the college to fulfill one of the federal government's initiatives laid out in 'Healthy People 2020,' which aims to increase the number of undergraduate students studying public health from seven percent to 10 percent by 2020.

“This field has belonged in graduate programs,” Brandsen said. “What used to be done at a graduate level can also be done at an undergraduate level.”

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