Perspective: BYU’s MPH Program
Posted by ryanlindsay on July 4, 2009
Two months ago I finished the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Brigham Young University (BYU). This is a reflection on the general aspects of the program that hopefully will help those wanting personal perspective on the program or those considering affiliating with the MPH program, as a student or partner.
BYU’s MPH program just accepted its 8th cohort of students and received continuing accreditation from CEPH; it is hardly a new program anymore. The way I see it, the future of public health at BYU is bright but growth will be slow. I am very satisfied with the education that I received at BYU as a student. Here is my take on the program (and since I’ve finished I can say whatever I want right?)…
Coursework. In a nutshell, the MPH program consists of 49 credit hours including 42 required credits. This leaves little room for electives, but I enjoyed the required coursework and for the most part found it relevant. Outside of coursework is a 300 hr fieldwork experience in public health, as well as a graduate project (either an evaluation, intervention or applied research see the MPH handbook for more detail). The program usually takes 1.5-2 years to complete.
Applicant Competitiveness. Each year the MPH office receives 40-60 applicants competing for ~12 spots each year. The caliber of applicants is high since BYU is privately owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and can pick the cream-of-the-crop among the many church members that would like to attend there. I was not accepted my first attempt and it behooved me to go sit with Dr. Michael Barnes and Dr. Gordon Lindsay (*no relation) to figure out how I could improve my application.
Size of the program. To me, the smallness of the program is both a pro and a con. The health science department at BYU could be a hotbed for global health research as more of its student body has been abroad, learned a language and seen the need to improve health worldwide. However, the university retains it’s primary focus as an undergraduate institution – something that is not likely to change and will continually limit the size of graduate programs, including the MPH program. So, BYU remains a great “feeder school” into graduate programs nationwide. It ranks at or near the top in the number of eventual dentists, doctors, and PhDs that it puts into the academic system. Revamping the undergraduate public health program to accommodate pre-dental and pre-med students was a smart-move, but I’ll continue to wish it could grow its MPH program.
International Focus. There are many, many registered not-for-profit organizations in Utah County that appear to have some sort of international mission for development. Yet while I was in the program, I was aware of few if any partnerships or collaborations from local humanitarian organizations with faculty members in the program. For me, this equates to one huge wasted resource for those working in Utah Valley in not-for-profit or non-governmental charity or humanitarian organizations. As a student, we worked in collaboration on real-world public health issues. These were mainly domestic issues and I (and most of my fellow classmates) would have preferred to have more of our class projects be associated with international global health issues. If I were running a local organization working abroad, I would be linking up with professors at BYU to have needs assessments, impact evaluations, or intervention designs or the like be developed by master’s students as part of class projects or individual student graduate projects. In summary, I would like to see more focus on global health in international settings.
Faculty. Even though the small faculty has almost completely replaced itself in the past 15 years, the faculty in the Health Science Department make a tremendous asset to the program. There are more than a handful of professors that I feel would personally “go to bat” for me should I need it. To me, the small size of the program is both a pro and a con. On the positive side, being small allows you to develop a level of familiarity with professors and the con being the relatively limited research profiles among such a small staff (for example one environmental health guy, one epidemiologist etc.). The proximity to the professors, in terms of research opportunities, mentorship, and approachability was refreshing compared to my undergraduate days as a Biology major. The professors at BYU are paid salary differently than most faculty at public universities where professors generate income based on the number of research grants secured. The strength of BYU’s salary system is that it allows faculty to focus on teaching and mentoring students. Research among professors at BYU is required to receive continuing faculty status (tenure), but doesn’t ultimately bring in the salary. The flip side is that certain faculty could have more rigorous research. Either way, I have made close friendships with all the faculty members and have benefited from the close interaction I’ve had with them.
The director. Dr. Michael Barnes is always willing to talk about the prospect of entering the MPH program. He is extremely approachable, honest and if you had any question at all I wouldn’t hesitate scheduling an appointment with him.
Finances. BYU always ranks very well in terms of “bang for your buck” on educational investment. The MPH program is no different – receiving a master’s degree is astoundingly cheap (about $7,000) at BYU. As if the low cost of tuition wasn’t enough, the Mary Lou Fulton Chair is almost a given as far as receiving funding for research related to graduate projects. This is a huge advantage that MPH students have at BYU thanks to Mary Lou, and something I would assume is not found elsewhere. The financial aspect of BYU’s MPH program alone is hard to beat.
Students. As part of “cohort VI” and having witnessed as an outsider the cohorts of MPH students before and after mine, it seems safe to say that the camaraderie is strong among classmates. This may be a factor of small class sizes, but also partly because of shared goals and values and an overall friendly BYU atmosphere.
Though it is small and I sometimes wished for more international research opportunities, I feel lucky to have been accepted to BYU’s MPH program. BYU’s MPH program is a great resource for Utah Valley and the LDS communities. I feel like my training was excellent and prepared me to make meaningful contributions in the public health field. Let me know if you have any further questions about the program.