Rutgers School of Public Health associate professor, Dr. Derek G. Shendell, and his colleagues Ms. Amber Gourdine and Ms. Melody Yuan, who were both Aresty Undergraduate research interns with the NJ Safe Schools Program at the Rutgers School of Public Health, have published a study assessing the awareness and interest in public health among Rutgers University undergraduate students with undeclared majors. The study is in response to a 2008 report by a committee led by the former UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Dean, Dr. Linda Rosenstock, which projected a shortage of 250,000 trained public health workers in the United States by 2020.
The predicted shortage of public health professionals and the field’s growing importance in modern society, prompted a study to better understand how aware undergraduate students are about the field of public health. Successful attempts to raise awareness and enrollment in undergraduate public health education have been made, but few studies have ever attempted to understand why or how the public health field may be underrepresented, or why there might be a lack of interest for first and second-year students.
Dr. Shendell and his colleagues crafted an anonymous online survey and circulated it to Rutgers University undergraduate students with undeclared majors during the spring of the 2014-15 academic school year. The survey targeted approximately 1000 undergraduate students enrolled in courses related to public health, statistics, environmental and occupational health, epidemiology, health education and behavioral science, and health systems and policy, and examined several variables of interest such as, demographics, course enrollments, the influence of parental occupation on a student’s choice of major courses study, and societal views of health.
Asked if they would consider pursuing a public health-related field of study, 44 percent of the surveyed undergraduates reported they would consider it, compared to 25 percent who were unsure, and 18 percent who said they would not. By race, 71 percent of African American respondents said they would consider a field in public health, compared to 43 percent of Caucasians, and 36 percent of Asians.
Cultural awareness was an important and valued factor among the 101 respondents, suggesting future efforts at Rutgers should designate certain public health-related courses to fulfill multiple degree requirements for undergraduate students.
The assessment also suggested it may be beneficial for colleges and universities like Rutgers to collaborate with high schools to help provide students in their senior years hands-on experience in the public health field prior to enrolling in a four-year institute. The Rutgers School of Public Health is taking this approach with its first-ever summer camp for high school students – PHocus, an interdisciplinary educational program for high school students to explore population health and learn the fundamentals of epidemiology, the basic science of public health.
One major limitation of the study was low survey participation. Future studies should modify and expand the survey to focus more on how salary goals and financial incentives impact an undergraduates decision, as well as include additional options for sexual identification.
“Assessing Awareness of and Interests in Public Health Among Undergraduate Students Without Declared Majors” was recently published in Pedagogy in Health Promotion.