Writing the book on public health

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The School of Public Health and Health Sciences literally wrote the book on public health and yet the program flies under the radar of many GW students.

SPHHS faculty have written many of the textbooks for public health education, said Sara Wilensky, the director of the SPHHS undergraduate program, including “Public Health 101: Healthy People-Healthy Populations” and “Essentials of Health Policy and Law.”

The SPHHS offers undergraduate majors in athletic training, exercise science, and public health and a minor in public health.

“Other schools don’t really know that the school exists,” Wilensky said.

She thinks the reason students are unaware of the program is because of its small size and that students start taking classes from the school in their junior and senior years, something Wikensky hopes to change.

“One thing we’ve been working on the past couple years is increasing our sections so that more freshman and sophomores can get a taste of public health before they declare a major,” Wikensky said.

The school began offering undergraduate majors in 2003, the same year that the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies said “all undergraduates should have access to education in public health,” according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ Web site.

In the United States, only 137 college institutions offer undergraduates access to public health courses, according to the AAC&U peer review report.

Other universities looking to establish a public health school are using SPHHS as a model for their programs, according to an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the article, University of South Carolina associate dean Gregory Hand said he hopes to recreate GW’s program at his school.

“We really looked at George Washington University’s undergraduate program as a model here,” Hand said to the Chronicle. “We wanted to use a broad liberal arts framework, and not simply set up vocational programs in health education or health promotion.”

SPHHS also offers students direct access to the authors of their textbooks. In some cases the books are the only textbooks available that cover their subjects, Wikensky said.

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