Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia will become the first institution of higher education in the University System of Georgia to offer a doctoral degree in epidemiology after a move approved by the Board of Regents during its September meeting. The university’s College of Public Health will start classes in fall 2012.
According to Christopher Whalen, UGA’s Earnest Corn Professor of Infectious Disease in the College of Public Health, the addition of a doctoral degree in epidemiology further builds upon the fruitful growth and demonstrated successes of the college, which already offers a master of public health and a doctor of public health.
“Adding the doctoral program in epidemiology will allow the college to offer specific, in-depth training in epidemiology, developing future researchers and educators for Georgia and beyond,” he said. “By becoming the first member of the University System of Georgia-and only the second school in the state-to offer a doctoral degree in the field, the college will provide the highest quality of training to epidemiologists, preparing them to serve the public health needs of the state, country and world.
“This new program will provide the focused, in-depth training and research opportunities that will best equip our future public health leaders to effectively and strategically address our most pressing health crises.”
The program comes at a pivotal time for public health in Georgia as the state is facing a looming public health workforce shortage. The average age of public health employees in the state is 47 years old, and approximately 35 percent of the workforce is expected to retire in the coming decade.
The state’s steady population growth, particularly in the senior sector, promises to further exacerbate the shortfall, Whalen said. The number of Georgians 65 years of age and older is projected to grow 78 percent between 2000 and 2020. Older adults have a higher demand for health care, Whalen said, and Georgia’s existing shortage of public health professionals puts this high-need group at a disadvantage.
Despite being the ninth-largest state in the U.S., Georgia ranks near the bottom nationally for most key health indicators. It is 43rd in health rankings, 42nd in health systems performance and 48th in childhood obesity. Georgia’s African-American population, which makes up 30 percent of the state, suffers documented health disparities in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, stroke and HIV/AIDS.
“The new doctoral program at the college will support state efforts to produce a new generation of epidemiologists who can lead public health research and academic programs, as well as serve as key experts in the community,” Whalen said. “As experts in a high-demand field in the scientific community, most graduates of epidemiological programs move directly into their first professional job, rather than spending three to five years in a post-doctoral fellowship.”
The college will begin accepting applications for the new doctoral program in January 2012.
About the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health
Founded in 2005 as a response to the state’s need to address important health concerns in Georgia, the UGA College of Public Health is comprised of four departments and two research institutes as well as the Center for Global Health. The college offers degree programs in biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health promotion and behavior, public health, health policy and management and toxicology and a certificate program in gerontology.
Graduates from the College of Public Health-which is nationally known for its work related to infectious disease, cancer research, gerontology, disaster preparedness and other areas-typically go on to a diverse range of careers, including medicine, health education, emergency management, public health policy, environmental science and social work. For more information, see www.publichealth.uga.edu.