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UNMC College of Public Health achieves national accreditation

Also receives $7.6 million to establish two centers to improve health of rural Nebraskans.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center’s newest college – the College of Public Health – has been granted accreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) and now is a full member of the Association of Schools of Public Health.    

The accreditation, announced today by UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., comes just five months after the college moved into its new $15 million building that was named for Dr. Maurer and his wife, Beverly. In addition, the college also learned that it has received two national grants totaling $7.6 million to fund two new regional centers that will improve the health of rural Nebraskans. 

“This is a red letter day for UNMC,” Dr. Maurer said. “The College of Public Health impacts the health and wellness of the entire state. Now, with accreditation, the final piece of the puzzle is in place and the college can soar to even greater heights.”

The college becomes one of only 47 accredited schools and colleges of public health in the United States. Only 27 of these schools are affiliated with academic medical centers. The nearest ones are in Iowa City, Iowa, and Denver.  

Formed in 2007, the college submitted its accreditation application in September 2009. Within the past two years, the college has named a new dean, earned full accreditation status and this year alone, faculty members have brought in $8 million in research funding.

For CEPH accreditation, excellence in education is tied to proficiency in practice and research. Public health schools and programs prepare practitioners, researchers and teachers who carry out broad public health functions in local, state, national and international settings. 

“The accreditation process requires commitment from administrators, faculty, staff, students and other constituents,” said Laura Rasar King, executive director of CEPH. “The Council recognizes the efforts of the University of Nebraska Medical Center to make ongoing improvements to ensure that students receive a high-quality education that advances them toward their career goals.”

Ayman El-Mohandes, M.B.B.Ch., M.D., M.P.H., dean of the College of Public Health, said the college received accreditation within the minimum turnaround time of two years.

 “This is an incredible accomplishment that the entire medical center should take pride in. It was a total team effort that required a massive amount of work. This accreditation is concrete evidence of the strong support that the college has received from the medical center, the University of Nebraska, the state and the community at large,” he said. 

The number of faculty has grown from 36 in 2009 to 54 in 2011. Enrollment also is up from 98 to 150 in the same time period.

 For public health students, accreditation means:

  • The college’s educational programs have been found to be equal to all the other accredited schools of public health;
  • They have advanced degree opportunities in all the various disciplines of public health;
  • Credits between institutions can be easily transferred;
  • It qualifies them for student financial assistance; and
  • Eligibility for higher-level jobs, internships and fellowships. 

Dr. El-Mohandes also said that reaching accreditation will make the college eligible for additional research funding available only to accredited schools and colleges. The goal, he said, is to secure $12 million in annual research funding within two years.

The two newly funded centers – the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health Center and the Great Plains Public Health Training Center – each have a strong rural component.  

“These new centers will allow us to reach out to rural Nebraskans, develop better health and safety interventions and address the major public health workforce needs throughout the state,” Dr. El-Mohandes said.

The Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health is one of nine national centers funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Covering seven states in the Midwest, the new center serves not only Nebraska, but nearly one quarter of American farmers, said Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental, agricultural and occupational health, and administrator of the grant.

The key projects for the center will include research on asthma, agricultural injury surveillance and health and safety education of farmers, Dr. Rautiainen said. 

During the past 10 years, agriculture has outpaced mining as the most hazardous industry in the nation, based on occupational fatality rates. Farm machinery, animals and falls are the top three causes of death on the farm.

The Great Plains Public Health Training Center at UNMC, one of just 37 such centers in the U.S., is funded by a four-year, $2.6 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. It is under the direction of Magda Peck, Sc.D., associate dean for community engagement and public health practice. 

By 2020, the Association of Schools of Public Health has reported that the United States will face a shortage of 250,000 public health workers. In addition, approximately 110,000 workers, nearly 25 percent of the current workforce, will be eligible to retire by 2012. The responsibility of schools of public health today to train new public health practitioners is crucial.

Since 2002, the number of health departments has grown significantly in Nebraska. The need for expanded training of this workforce has also grown significantly. The UNMC College of Public Health is responding to that need, Dr. Peck said.

UNMC’s new center will assess public health workforce needs throughout the state, fund collaborative projects, place students in the field and expand continuing professional education opportunities.

Rural areas face significant challenges in public health, Dr. El-Mohandes said. 

“People who live in greater Nebraska are often isolated from comprehensive health care and prevention services,” he said. “For these populations to thrive, it is absolutely critical that communities can turn to top notch public health professionals who meet their needs.”

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