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Students flock to public health in hopes of turning the pandemic’s lessons into change

You would think the pandemic would dissuade young people from pursuing a career in public health. In fact, the opposite is true.
Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 2:16 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2022 at 6:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - You would think the pandemic would dissuade young people from pursuing a career in public health. In fact, the opposite is true.

Last year, public health schools across the country saw a 40% increase in applicants for graduate degree programs, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.

The University of Hawaii is trying to keep up with the demand for students who want to help, and has added an online master of public health with a specialization in health policy and management.

Classes will be asynchronous to accommodate different schedules or even time zones.

“It makes it possible for those who are on the Neighbor Islands or out in the Pacific jurisdictions to pursue a degree while remaining on their home island,” said Elizabeth McFarlane, program director.

McFarlane not only wants to provide academic support but hopes the state will provide financial support for public health in general.

“Public health has been notoriously underfunded, historically,” said McFarlane. “And so I think the times are changing.”

That’s what the chair of the Senate Health Committee would like to see, too.

“One of the things we’re working on this year is restoring a lot of the capacity that was lost in the Department of Health,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole.

“A lot of what we’re working on this year with the administration is trying to build back up that capacity in the department and those folks are as burned out and as understaffed as our nurses in hospitals.”

But there are a lot of students willing to fill the gaps.

“It’s been really amazing to see students come to public health and think about ways that they can utilize their skills or build their skills to give back,” said Michele Tagorda-Kama, a doctoral student.

Tagorda-Kama said many students are coming from underserved areas.

“When students are able to play a role in that in overcoming the language barriers for resources, or access , I think that’s been really exciting to see,” Tagorda-Kama said.

First-priority applications for the Fall 2022 program are due Mar. 1. For questions, email phonline@hawaii.edu.

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