MPH Program

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Public Health Student Peer Advisory Panel

In June of 2010, the MPH program held a student peer advisory panel during which current students and graduates answered questions from other current and new students regarding courses, faculty, and online learning. Following are the questions asked and the students’ and graduates’ responses.

SCHEDULING
On average, how many courses do you take each semester?

ONLINE LEARNING
How do instructors teach online?
How do you work in groups online?  What methods do you use to communicate?

CLASSMATES
I’m not a physician, but I know there are many in the program. What’s it like taking classes with physicians?
How did you deal with difficult students in your courses?

COURSES – GENERAL INFO
Which courses are offered on campus as well as online?
Which courses require site visits and/or interviews?
What was the hardest course?
What was your favorite course?

SPECIFIC COURSES
18200 Environmental Health
18202 Toxicology
18203 Public Health Administration
18204 Introduction to Biostatistics
18209 Community Health Assessment and Improvement
18212 Behavioral Science and Public Health
18215 Infectious Diseases
18218 Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in Health
18230 Community Health Program Planning
18250 Ethical Issues in Public Health
18254 Challenges in Maternal and Child Health
18258 Advanced Epidemiological Methods
 

FIELD PLACEMENT & CAPSTONE PROJECT
What are the Field Placement and Capstone Project courses? How are they related to each other?
When during the program do you enroll in Field Placement and Capstone Project, and when do you start planning for them?
How long do you work on your Field Placement?
What did you do for your Field Placement? How did it go?

TEXTBOOKS
Where do you get your textbooks?

EMPLOYMENT
What do you plan to do with your MPH after graduation?
What are the employment prospects for someone with an MPH without a clinical background, such as someone who’s not a physician or a nurse?
Could you tell me more about the certification in public health?


SCHEDULING


On average, how many courses do you take each semester?

Different students take different numbers of courses each semester, depending on their schedule and other responsibilities. Researchers state online courses usually require 6-10 hours of work each week although some courses will take longer than others.

A graduate who was a student full time and worked part time (24 hours per week) enrolled in as many as four courses each semester.

A few of other students work full time, so they don’t take as many courses each semester. One student takes two courses each semester, and two students stated they usually take three courses each fall and spring semester as well as one course each summer. Those two students said taking three courses each semester is very manageable. One student said the readings are the most time-consuming aspect of the courses, so she reads every night (seven days per week). Another student mentioned having a very difficult time concentrating on coursework during the summer, so she doesn’t enroll in as many classes during that semester.

Another student works full-time as a physician and is very involved in his three children’s lives (coaching their sports teams, etc). Because of these commitments, he enrolls in only one course at a time. (By enrolling in one course each semester – fall, spring, and summer – he is able to complete the program in the required five year limit.)


ONLINE LEARNING


How do instructors teach online?

The MPH program utilizes the online learning system, A New Global Environment for Learning (ANGEL). Students state ANGEL is quite intuitive, and you shouldn’t be afraid of the program. Each instructor teaches, and utilizes ANGEL, differently. Some utilize PowerPoint presentations with audio (voiced over PPTs) to lecture; whereas, other instructors just use Word documents.

Some instructors interact more with students. One instructor loaded all of the lectures at the beginning of the course and did not participate in the discussion board at all. Other instructors participate in discussion boards all the time and provide a lot of feedback on assignments. The students noted how much more they learned when the instructors provided feedback, and several said they learned the most from discussion boards.

Readings were another source of learning, and some courses have more required reading than others. Some instructors just assign readings from the textbook; whereas, others incorporate articles from medical or public health journals, which can be downloaded. Additionally, some instructors require students to use specific websites. For instance, students mentioned you get to use the CDC website often.

Many instructors utilize quizzes – either graded or ungraded. The students thought ungraded weekly quizzes were really helpful in keeping them on task and figuring out what they knew (and what they didn’t know). Several students noted how helpful the list of new items, found under the class headline on ANGEL, was. They said it was nice to know when there were new discussion board posts or quizzes without having to enter each section of ANGEL. Another nice feature students mentioned is the grade book; it allows you to compare your scores to the averages.


How do you work in groups online? What methods do you use to communicate?

The students stated it’s a little awkward to work in groups online, but it works out. The instructor’s ideal plan is for everyone to collaborate and for each student to work on each section. However, students usually divvy up the various sections and get experience on each of the sections by working with each other. For instance, one or two people might conduct the interview, and others write sections of the paper using the interview notes and course information. Then all group members revise the final document.

One student noted how nice it is to have one person take charge of the group and how helpful mini deadlines are. The group can split the project into various sections and then assign deadlines for each section (i.e. when the interview should be conducted, when the rough draft should be completed, etc.)

To communicate, students stated they primarily used email. They said they used the track changes feature on Microsoft Word and emailed the documents as attachments. Students also mentioned they had heard you could set up user accounts on Wiki or share a document on Gmail; however, none of those present had used any of these options.


CLASSMATES


I’m not a physician, but I know there are many in the program. What’s it like taking classes with physicians?

Until 2007, the MPH program only admitted licensed health care professionals, so most of the enrolled students were physicians. Since the program started admitting students with bachelor degrees, the courses have had greater proportions of non-physician students.

At first, some non-physician students felt intimidated by the number of physicians in the program, but the students – both physicians and non-physicians – were very welcoming. A few weeks after introductions, the students did not even remember which other students were physicians and which weren’t.

A graduate thought it was an asset to be enrolled in courses with so many professionals with lots of experience. Plus, it’s not just physicians in the program. There are also dentists and public health professionals, too.

Another student noted that all of the students are learning the same material, so that puts everyone on the same level. It’s just that the physicians have cooler experiences to talk about.


How did you deal with difficult students in your courses?

The students stated you’ll sometimes have a student who overwhelms discussions. He might post more (in length and quantity) than others on the discussion board. Additionally, sometimes a student will be overly critical. When this occurs, the instructor or teaching assistant might say something to the student, but usually the other students just ignore this type of inappropriate behavior. One student offered this advice regarding an overly critical classmate: take their comments with a grain of salt.


COURSES – GENERAL INFO


Which courses are offered on campus as well as online?

MPH Course Alternate On Campus Course Semester Usually Offered Day and Time Usually Offered
18201 Principles of Epidemiology 11200 Introduction to Epidemiology Fall Thursdays, 6-9pm
18204 Introduction to Biostatistics 04200 Biostatistics I Fall Thursdays, 1-4pm
18258 Advanced Epidemiological Methods 11256 Research Methods in Epidemiology Spring Thursdays
Electives Electives offered by other programs (Bioethics, Clinical & Translational Science, etc.) Various Various

For further information about on campus courses, contact a Program Coordinator at mph@mcw.edu.


Which courses require site visits and/or interviews?

  • 18202 Toxicology
  • 18203 Public Health Administration
  • 18215 Infectious Diseases
  • 18218 Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in Health
  • 18254 Challenges in Maternal and Child Health

(See the Specific Courses section below for further information.)

Many students find the site visits and required interviews very useful. One student felt very awkward because she thought she would be bothering people, but the people she visited were very excited to speak with her about their work.

Site visits and interviews are also a great way to network. One student interviewed a local public health officer for Public Health Administration, and that led to her working with the health officer for her Field Placement.


What was the hardest course?

Different students find different courses the hardest. Also, some students consider some courses the most time-consuming but others more difficult. 18204 Introduction to Biostatistics is considered one of the most difficult courses by many students, and 18202 Toxicology is often considered difficult. A graduate took the in-person Biostatistics course and thought that may have made the course seem easier. (Read more about the Biostatistics course in the Specific Courses section below.)


What was your favorite course?

A graduate found all of the courses interesting and worthwhile, but his favorite was Public Health Administration. Several other students really enjoyed the Community Health Program Planning course taught by Julie Willems Van Dijk every spring. They said they learned more in this class than any other. For more information about these courses, see the Specific Courses section below.


SPECIFIC COURSES

If you’d like to learn even more about these courses, email a Program Coordinator at mph@mcw.edu to ask for the syllabus from the previous year or to discuss the course with previous students.


18200 Environmental Health

This course is currently taught by two different instructors, William Greaves and Alan Wells. They each teach a different section during the spring semester. The major difference between these two sections is that one requires a final paper; whereas, the other requires a final exam. Students noted Dr. Wells does not focus on exams. There were quizzes each week, and the questions on the exams were taken verbatim from the quizzes.

Students described this course as one of the easier core courses. They said the course has tangible, concrete examples, which help you understand the concepts. Most students quite enjoyed the course. They found the reading very straight forward, but then they had to apply it. One student noted she thought she had a lot of background knowledge about the various sections when she started the course, so she was surprised by how much she learned.

Students really enjoyed the real world examples provided in this course, such as how a health department would react to a foodborne illness. For their final papers, students wrote about various subjects, including the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee, plastics in the ocean, and the West Nile Virus. They said it was nice to talk about what we’re doing to the environment and what the environment is doing to us (because of what we did to it).

This course also required students to visit an environmental health site, such as a water treatment plant. One student visited a landfill and had a very interesting interview with a person working in waste management. She had thought composting was great for the environment, but the professional noted how many green house gas emissions are released through composting. This reminded the student that there’s always another side of the story, and many students said these types of activities really broadened their view of environmental, and public, health.


18202 Toxicology

A student thought this course was quite difficult but that the info was very useful. She said the course was very intensive. She put more work into that class than any other. One of the requirements of the course was to visit a site, and she visited the Waukesha Foundry with the instructor, Ross Clay. There they talked to the safety inspector about the toxins that the workers are exposed to daily.


18203 Public Health Administration

This course was a graduate’s favorite in the entire program. Many students noted this course is probably one of the heavier ones. It requires a lot of reading and writing. However, several students said they enjoyed going every week. They noted many different reasons.

  • The instructors utilized many different interactive functions of ANGEL.
  • The PowerPoints were voiced over.
  • The instructors were actively involved in discussions.
  • One student facilitates the discussion each week.
  • You get to (are required to) interview a Public Health Officer for this course.
  • There are many guest lecturers, such as Art Derse (Professor of Bioethics), Seth Foldy (State Health Officer), and John Meurer (Professor of Family and Community Medicine)

Several students noted using the textbook in later courses, including during their Capstone Projects. A graduate stated the information in the textbook is so useful and important that he’s highlighted something on almost every page. Other students described this course as a great introduction to public health.


18204 Introduction to Biostatistics

This course is offered both online and on campus. Both the instructor, Ruta Bajournaite, and a graduate recommend taking the course on campus, if possible. Previously, the online and on campus courses utilized different statistical packages; the online course utilized Minitab, and the on campus course utilized SAS. However, that may change in future years; the online course may also use SAS. Minitab is often considered easier to use, and a graduate stated that writing programming language for SAS was quite difficult.

This course is considered by many students to be one of the most difficult in the program. One student stated this course requires more self understanding than other courses. Another student said it took awhile to figure the concepts out, but once you get it, it just clicks. One more student thought the material wasn’t that difficult, but they didn’t get very many examples in the online course. A graduate stated they asked a lot of questions in the on campus course, so they got a fair number of examples.

A student who took the online course said you can email the instructor, who everyone calls Dr. Ruta, but it may take her awhile to respond. A graduate stated Dr. Ruta is very driven. If you go to her office with a question, she won’t let you leave until you understand the concept.


18209 Community Health Assessment and Improvement

This course includes lecture and discussion each week, and assignments include two papers – one individual and one group. During the second half of the course, the instructor, Nancy Kreuser, focuses on the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership (MAPP) process. You work through the process step-by-step week-by-week. For the final paper, students have to analyze a health department that had completed a community health improvement project using the MAPP process.


18212 Behavioral Science and Public Health

This course is taught by two different instructors, Timothy Lynch and David Nelson, who alternate weeks of teaching. They’ve decided which topics they’ll each teach based on their backgrounds, and at the beginning of each section, they describe their experience, providing rationale for why they’re teaching it. Several students commented that the instructors for this course are really great and very responsive. One student noted Dr. Lynch is usually the first person to respond to her posts on the discussion board. Other students described this class as a very reassuring first course in the program. They said it’s not particularly difficult, but it’s very interesting and important.


18215 Infectious Diseases

Students stated this course is one of the more challenging in the program, but the information is very useful and worthwhile.


18218 Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in Health

Several students find this course’s instructor, Emmanuel Ngui, very interesting. They noted he has lots of experience in the U.S. and elsewhere, including his native Kenya. One student described how dedicated Dr. Ngui is; he called the student at home about a paper he had submitted.

Another student said this course involves a lot of reading, and the instructor provided two or three cases each week. These cases were scenarios involving racial and ethnic inequalities, and the students discussed them each week. This course requires students to visit a community organization dealing with racial and ethnic inequalities, and they noted that the concepts put health care in a different perspective.


18230 Community Health Program Planning

Many students described this course as their favorite, and they said the instructor, Julie Willems Van Dijk, is excellent. All of her PowerPoint presentations are voiced over, which is really nice, and she made the presentations relevant to the current class. She has lots of experience and provides many examples, which help prevent students from feeling overwhelmed, but some of the lectures can get quite long.

At the end of this course, you have to submit a 25-page paper, but you have the option of submitting a section each week and receiving feedback from Dr. Willems Van Dijk. This option was quite nice because some of the students were really surprised by the level of detail expected in some of the sections. One student even submitted incomplete sections (with a note on top explaining its lack of completeness), and she still received good feedback.


Ethical Issues in Public Health

The students stated the required ethics course was pretty easy, but the instructor, Thomas May, wasn’t very responsive. They warned you shouldn’t expect feedback or emails . . . or much of any communication at all. The teaching assistant usually responded via the discussion board. The students also mentioned that it took a long time to receive grades, so they didn’t know how they were doing for much of the course.


18254 Challenges in Maternal and Child Health

Students noted this course provided really interesting material if you’re interested in maternal and child health. One student felt like she didn’t have enough passion for the subject, so she found the course somewhat intimidating. She also thought her fellow students worked in maternal and child health, so she guessed they may have found the course easier. Another student noted the course is a little heavy on reading. For the final project, you must interview a program dealing with maternal and child health issues.


18258 Advanced Epidemiological Methods

This course is offered online every other Spring (even years) online and every Spring on campus. It’s a continuation of the 18201 Principles of Epidemiology core course and very worthwhile if you’re interested in furthering your epidemiological skills and knowledge.


FIELD PLACEMENT & CAPSTONE PROJECT


What are the Field Placement and Capstone Project courses? How are they related to each other?

The Field Placement and Capstone Project courses are the culminating experiences of the MPH program. The Field Placement is similar to an internship or practicum, and you’re required to work with a public health organization. The Capstone Project consists of writing a Master’s Paper, and you’re not required to work with an organization.

The Field Placement and Capstone Project are two separate courses. The coordinator of these courses recommends that you link the two courses to each other (so that you can use the same background information/research for both); however, you don’t have to relate them.


When during the program do you enroll in Field Placement and Capstone Project, and when do you start planning for them?

The Field Placement and Capstone Project courses should be taken at the end of the MPH program. To enroll in Field Placement, you must have at least completed the five core courses. The Capstone Project is supposed to be the final course in the program, so you should complete all other coursework before enrolling in this course.

You should start planning for your Field Placement and Capstone Project very early. Especially if you’re planning to move quickly through the program, you should start planning your projects when you start the program. (It’s never too early to start planning!) Intensive planning for these courses takes place the semester before enrollment, so you should plan time during that semester. Consider the planning process like a course in and of itself. (It takes that long!)


How long do you work on your Field Placement?

The Field Placement can be spread out over multiple semesters – up to three consecutive semesters, meaning one calendar year. Most students enroll in the Field Placement over two semesters, and they often include the summer as one of those semesters; therefore, they work on their Field Placement for approximately six months. However, the Field Placement can be completed much quicker than that. One student is planning to go to Kenya for her Field Placement, and she’s planning to be in country for three weeks.

You have the option of how many credits you enroll in Field Placement – 2, 3, or 4. These correspond to the minimum number of hours you must work on your project. If you enroll in two credits, you must complete at least 80 hours on your project. For three credits, the requirement is 120 hours, and for four, it’s 160 hours. These hours do not all have to be completed on-site; you can work on your project from home. However, you’re required to spend some time on site (to learn how the public health organization functions).

A student and a graduate completed their Field Placements at local health departments. The graduate, who was a student full-time and worked part-time, spent 10 hours at the health department per week. The student, who works full-time, only attends meetings at the health department for two or three hours each week. She completes her other project work at home, and she submits written materials either via email or at the weekly meetings.


What did you do for your Field Placement? How did it go?

A graduate completed his Field Placement at the Wauwatosa Health Department by evaluating the city’s two year olds’ immunization rates. At first, he wondered whether he had sufficient knowledge and skills to complete such a project. His recommendation is to relax into your Field Placement. The health department will be appreciative of anything you can offer, and you’ll be surprised how much you can do.

A current student is working with the West Allis Health Department on their community health improvement process using the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership (MAPP) process. She’s helping to gather data and write sections of their 5-year community health plan. West Allis is used to hosting nursing students, so everything is going quite smoothly.


TEXTBOOKS


Where do you get your textbooks?

Textbooks are available at the MCW bookstore, but they’re kind of expensive there. You can also get the books from various websites (Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon.com, etc.) Several students recommend using Half.com. On this website, you can buy books at various conditions (new, used, etc.), and you can pay with a credit card. (You don’t need a PayPal account.) The site will provide a tracking number for shipping.

Half.com also offers the option to sell books back. However, students warned you may not want to sell your books back. Two courses use the same textbook, and students often use textbooks as references for future courses. For instance, one student found the epidemiology textbook so useful that she used it in two subsequent courses.

One other warning: don’t buy your textbooks too far in advance. Instructors sometimes choose to use different books, and new editions are often published.


EMPLOYMENT


What do you plan to do with your MPH after graduation?

Many students use the MPH program to break into the field of public health while others want to enhance their current employment in public health with more background knowledge. A few students mentioned wanting to switch careers away from bench research. Additionally, a couple of graduates have used the MPH program as a stepping stone toward medical school. One thought it made him a better medical school applicant by helping him think at a population level.


What are the employment prospects for someone with an MPH without a clinical background, such as someone who’s not a physician or a nurse?

Previously, many public health departments operated on a nursing model; however, they seem to be switching away from that model. When a program coordinator asked a few county health officers this very question, they mentioned a lot of opportunities for graduates with an MPH but no RN. In general, the employment prospects for public health professionals look quite good. Experts say the field will grow through 2020, and many public health professionals are expected to retire in the coming years.


Could you tell me more about the certification in public health?

After completing at least 21 credits (including the five core course), you will be eligible to sit for the exam to become Certified in Public Health (CPH). (Completing the Graduate Certificate in Public Health program does not confer eligibility to sit for the exam because you must have a graduate-level degree, such as the MPH.) The exam consists of 200 questions that test your knowledge of the five core areas of public health and seven cross-cutting competencies in public health.  To find out more information about scheduled exams, eligibility requirements, or to register for the exam online, visit www.nbphe.org.

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