Whitworth faculty voted in favor of adding a new degree, Bachelor of Arts in community health, on Feb. 17. The decision to approve the major came from an evaluation of how it lines up with Whitworth’s mission, said Lee Anne Chaney, the chair of Curriculum Oversight, Vision and Approval Committee (COVAC).
The new major will require an inter-disciplinary course offering in health psychology. The rest of the classes necessary to fulfill the community health requirements are already offered as electives, said Michael Ediger, associate professor of health sciences.
With the addition of community health, there are now five health science majors, including nursing, athletic training and either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts in health science. Between 12 and 15 current Whitworth students have expressed interest in this major, Ediger said.
“Its core content is classes concerned with looking at communities and what makes a community healthy or unhealthy,” Ediger said. “Many of the leading causes of death in our country are what I call diseases of adaptation.”
This means that the human bodies adapt poorly to unhealthful behaviors, such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise, he said. The community health major will seek to teach students how to evaluate a certain community for its nourishing or harmful aspects.
“It’s really well-suited for folks who know they have a passion for health, but don’t necessarily want to be a practitioner out in the world or work with sick people,” associate professor of health sciences Robin Pickering said. “But they want to spread the message of health and good nutrition and good exercise behaviors.”
The nation is determined to make a sustainable health care system, but costs are escalating, and the system is primarily focused on caring for people who have already developed chronic conditions, Pickering said.
“Most of those conditions are caused by lifestyle and behaviors,” Pickering said. “We’re starting to figure out that it’s a lot cheaper and more cost-effective to prevent chronic conditions than to treat them.”
A major in community health does not prepare students for one career path in particular, just as a major in English doesn’t prepare students for one specific job, Ediger said. A wide variety of occupations can result from this major. Positions at regional health departments, nonprofit organizations or community health agencies are a few of these options, he said.
“Traditionally there’s been this thinking that it’s people’s behaviors and attitudes only that impact their health outcomes,” Pickering said. “We’re learning more now that it’s not just your individual factors but the way that you interact with your family and your peers.”
The way that a community is set up, down to the safety of the sidewalks and the lighting on the streets, can have an impact on its health, Pickering said.
“Are there policies in place that say you have to have a certain amount of physical activity in your school?” Pickering said. “Are there policies in place that make it so your community has to be zoned in a certain way so that you’re not surrounded by McDonald’s and Burger King? We’re finding out more that it’s not just your own personal willpower that influences your ability to be healthy, but it’s this combination of factors in our built environment and our social relationships.”
The degree is also useful for those planning to enter a master’s program in public health, Ediger said.
After Ediger first proposed community health as a major, just as any other major proposal, it had to be approved by the dean, then approved by COVAC. Finally, the entire faculty voted on the major at a general faculty assembly.
Katie Shaw Staff Writer
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