New Health Studies major is unique to public higher education in New England

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KINGSTON, R.I. – June 21, 2011 – While some colleges and universities offer a health studies major that combines two or three disciplines, such as health policy and business, a new health major at the University of Rhode Island brings together 28 departments across all 8 colleges on the Kingston campus and the expertise of 130 faculty members.

With a truly interdisciplinary focus that taps into the strength of health resources and expertise at URI, the new major is unique to public higher education in New England and perhaps beyond. And starting in September, the health studies major will begin to prepare a generation of students to succeed in non-clinical health careers. By maximizing an interdisciplinary approach, the new major puts the University front and center in national leadership in health professions education.

“This is a prototype for developing interdisciplinary programs on campus,” said URI Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald H. DeHayes. “The Health Studies major offers an exciting new way for students to learn varied perspectives on health and prepare for careers that will make a difference in people’s lives. ”

The future of health care will involve addressing challenges from a societal and community level, not only from a clinical perspective.

“Students are really interested in working in the broad area of health but not everybody wants to be the doctor, the nurse, or the physical therapist,” said Deborah A. Riebe, professor and chair of the URI Department of Kinesiology. “Students are finding out about this program and are already starting to enroll. There’s already a demand.”

Health services are Rhode Island’s largest industry. Health care is one of the fastest growing industries nationally and globally and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that certain professions, such as health educator, epidemiologist, and health administrator, will grow even faster. The Bureau reported that health care will generate 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018, more than any other industry.

The new major will start in the fall with an expected enrollment of 25 full-time students. Each subsequent year, 40 new students will be accepted. Upon graduating, they will earn a bachelor of science in Health Studies. The new major is designed to prepare students for positions in many different fields, such as public health, corporate wellness, health education and administration, health services management, pharmacy, insurance, and health-related research. Riebe said the range of jobs that health studies graduates will be able to obtain upon entering the workforce will be vast.

“The types of job opportunities are so broad and we don’t want to pigeon hole any one type of position,” said Riebe, who worked with a committee for two years to plan the new major. “Our graduates will enjoy employment in a wide variety of areas. That is the whole point of the program.”

“This is interdisciplinary learning in the extreme,” Riebe said.

Focused on the health of individuals and communities, Health Studies students will pursue one of three tracks:

• global and environmental health

• health promotion

• health services

To convey the diversity of the courses involved, the global and environmental health track has students studying: anthropology; biology and entomology; biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences; communications; sustainability; natural resources science; community planning; nursing; philosophy; political science; and women’s studies.