New Public Health Degrees Promote Community-Level Wellness

A woman takes notes on a clipboard.

For 36 years, Bastyr University has prepared health care practitioners to treat patients one-on-one, training naturopathic doctors (NDs), acupuncturists, dietitians, midwives, psychologists and others in globally recognized study programs.

But not all health issues arise at the level of individual patients. Not all cures happen in the examination room.

Three new degree programs reflect Bastyr’s growing focus on serving the health of communities. In fall 2015, the University will launch a Master of Public Health (MPH), a Master of Arts in Maternal-Child Health Systems and — in San Diego — a Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness.

Each program recognizes the ways health connects to broader issues of education, environment, culture, poverty and race, preparing graduates to work across traditional boundaries in promoting wellness.

“These programs arose from our interest in having a broader impact on community wellness,” says Lynelle Golden, PhD, dean of the School of Natural Health Arts and Sciences. “Most of the health conditions we are facing, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, have behavioral and cultural components. We need to provide ways for communities to improve their own health.”

The programs reflect evolving demands on health leaders. For example, the key to improving health in some neighborhoods is not explaining the importance of exercise, it’s improving traffic and crime to make it safe to exercise outside. That requires working with urban planners, politicians and neighborhood leaders, says David Fleming, MD, who served for seven years as the director of Public Health for Seattle and King County, Washington.

“The skills that public health workers of the future need are going to be different than in the past,” says Dr. Fleming. “Increasingly they will be skills needed to assist policymakers and communities to take the healthy actions that they themselves want to take.”

Each of Bastyr’s new programs addresses the changing picture of health in the 21st century. And each has innovative program designs to serve students at any point in their careers.

Master of Public Health

Bastyr students and faculty talk health concerns at a homeless youth clinic.

The two-year MPH program has a specialization in Community Health Education, preparing graduates to become certified as Community Health Education Specialists (CHES), a requirement for many jobs in the field. The evening-format program is also available as a dual-degree option for current Bastyr students.

The program offers career pathways to people who want to work in health but not as one-on-one practitioners, Dr. Golden says. People like Ann Lanning, a senior in Bastyr’s Bachelor of Science in Health Psychology program who would like to work in corporate human resources developing workplace wellness programs. She is considering the Bastyr MPH to continue learning how to lead people toward healthy behavior changes.

“The MPH is a natural extension of what I’ve learned as an undergraduate student,” says Lanning. “It would help me learn about how health and wellness apply to groups of people. I see corporate human resources as playing a big role in supporting broad health education and prevention-focused initiatives.”

The program extends Bastyr’s whole-person philosophy of individual health to the level of communities.

“A holistic perspective on communities fits the Bastyr philosophy of supporting health rather than just treating disease,” says Dr. Golden.

The program also includes a focus on social justice, with seminars each quarter on issues such as access to medical care, access to healthy foods, and environmental health.

That approach appeals to Henry Appiah, a Bastyr student of naturopathic medicine and acupuncture who is considering the MPH program. Appiah has worked as a community organizer in Ghana, leading campaigns to drain stagnant urban waterways where disease-bearing mosquitoes bred. That work showed him the importance of community organizing for health – work he plans to continue in Ghana.

“Health comes not only from diagnosing and curing, but from prevention and education,” he says. “So much disease can be avoided with education. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Bastyr’s MPH will prepare graduates to work in health departments, corporate settings, community organizations, assisted living facilities and a variety of other workplaces, Dr. Golden says.

Learn more about the MPH program

Master of Arts in Maternal-Child Health Systems

Women place hands together

The Master of Arts in Maternal-Child Health Systems is designed for midwives and other maternal and infant care practitioners who want to shift their careers toward teaching, advocacy, research and other ways of leading systemic change. The one-year program prepares graduates to promote the health of mothers and children at hospitals, medical centers, birth centers, public health departments and elsewhere.

That can be an appealing change for mid-career midwives and doulas, says Suzy Myers, LM, CPM, MPH, chair of Bastyr’s Department of Midwifery.

“There’s only so long you can get up in the middle of the night and work crazy hours,” says Myers. “There is a common need for midwives to shift their professional focus from the hard physical work of delivering babies to something that has a broader approach.”

As midwives learn about structural barriers to providing effective birth care, many find themselves looking for ways to lead change in health systems, says Karen E. Hays, DNP, CNM, ARNP, an adjunct midwifery faculty member who helped develop the new program.

“You’re out there practicing in the trenches and you realize all the frustrations and the obstacles to providing the kind of care you want to deliver,” she says. “Things related to financing, insurance, cultural biases, and so on. The U.S. health care system offers huge barriers to what we know is scientifically supported to empower women and improve their health outcomes and their lives. That’s what this program addresses.”

The program uses the hybrid-online model that Bastyr has developed for its midwifery program. Students attend classes on campus at the beginning and end of the year, with online modules in between. That allows them to stay involved in their home communities.

Audrey Levine, LM, CPM, a midwife in Olympia, Washington, practicing since 2001, has already begun a transition into full-time policy work. She is the legislative chair for the Midwives' Association of Washington State and serves on the board of the National Association of Certified Professional Midwives.

“As I embark on the next phase of my career, it seems like a master’s degree in maternal-child health systems would give me a broader perspective as well as more credibility on the national scene,” she says. “I already know a number of the prospective faculty members for the Bastyr program and am thrilled at the prospect of learning from all of them.”

Learn more about the Maternal-Child Health Systems program

Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness (California campus)

Faculty member Kelly Morrow talks nutrition on TV

The Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness rests on the whole-food philosophy that guides all of Bastyr’s nutrition education, emphasizing eating a broad variety of foods in their least-processed forms. The two-year program offers a new focus on teaching nutrition to groups in a variety of settings and media.

That’s an unfilled niche, says Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair of Bastyr's Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science.

“We wanted to come at nutrition in a new way,” says Boutin. “It’s about training people at a graduate level to understand the science behind nutrition. That prepares them to share knowledge about whole foods in a way that has integrity and accuracy.”

The program focuses on food for disease prevention, motivating behavior change and developing nutrition education programs. Graduates will be qualified to lead the wellness programs that have risen in popularity at workplaces, health care organizations, schools and senior centers. They might develop nutrition programs for grocery store chains, produce cooking demonstrations or lead grant-funded public health projects. Or they might become entrepreneurs, using video, writing, consulting or other methods to bring nutrition information to others.

The common thread will be an ability to translate scientific research into accessible information that can change people’s lives.

“We’re looking for the same kind of passionate students who come to our Washington nutrition programs,” Boutin says. “People who really want to work with groups and become comfortable with media and publicity.”

Learn more about the Nutrition for Wellness program

Changing Health Landscape

Students in each of the new programs will be preparing for a changing career landscape. Many of today’s health problems in North America arose out of yesterday’s health victories, according to Dr. Fleming of Public Health — Seattle & King County. People no longer die from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis at the rates they did 100 years ago. Longer lives have created room for a new set of chronic health challenges — cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and others. Conditions more likely in old age, such as arthritis and lower back pain, have become more common. Mental illness and depression have also become leading health problems.

These changes create a need for new types of public health leaders who can collaborate on issues such as tobacco use, access to healthy food, and crime that keeps people from getting exercise outside, says Dr. Fleming.

“A public health worker is not going to be pouring cement for a bike path,” says Dr. Fleming. “Instead, our work in the future is increasingly working with families and communities to enable them to make the changes they want.”

With the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) placing an increased emphasis on preventive health, career opportunities will follow.

"We launched these programs because they prepare students to work in key fields," says Timothy C. Callahan, PhD, senior vice president and provost of Bastyr University. "Health care trends are increasingly moving toward preventive wellness. Bastyr's strength has always been the prevention-oriented focus of natural health. Graduates of these programs will have a lot to offer."