Ebola outbreak shows need for education in public health preparedness

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa has underscored the importance of the education and training that people need to respond to global health crises. An online master’s degree and graduate certificate from Penn State can help prepare people for those kinds of jobs. Photo credit: The European Commission Credit: The European CommissionAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has made health officials, hospitals and governments around the world look at the way they are prepared for and respond to public health emergencies.

There have been shortages of physicians and nurses, public health workers, and volunteers who have education and training that is necessary to contain this epidemic. The disease has spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia, and more recently, to Senegal and Nigeria. Attempts to stop its spread have been unsuccessful.

As a result, the outbreak has put the spotlight on the kinds of jobs and training needed to respond to infectious and deadly diseases such as Ebola and to manage the ensuing public health crises.

Penn State offers two online graduate-level education programs in public health preparedness that can train people to take on that important work.

A 33-credit master of professional studies in Homeland Security with a public health preparedness option is offered online through Penn State World Campus, and the courses in public health preparedness are taught by faculty from Penn State College of Medicine. A 12-credit graduate certificate in public health preparedness is also available. 

“Public health preparedness is about preparation, response and remediation of epidemics, disasters and the acts of terrorists,” said Eugene Lengerich, professor of public health sciences at the College of Medicine and the lead faculty member of the public health preparedness option. “A person who has the knowledge and skills that this program imparts to our students could be helping to lead efforts in West Africa to contain the Ebola outbreak.”

The programs also provide a way to fulfill the mission of the Global Health Security agenda, which is a partnership between the United States and more than 30 other countries to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats. The agenda seeks to build the global infrastructure to minimize the impact of epidemics.

Lengerich said the Penn State online public health preparedness program is the first of its kind to offer curriculum from a medical school. Physicians comprise the faculty, too, he said.

The online master’s degree includes coursework in preparedness for disaster and terrorist emergencies, protection of critical health care infrastructure and the evaluation of disasters and bioterrorism.

The program also has prescribed courses on homeland security policies, programs, social and ethical issues, and an overview of domestic and global security issues. Students will also choose three electives from the other homeland security options: agricultural biosecurity and food defense; geospatial intelligence; and information security and forensics.

All students in the master’s in Homeland Security degree must complete a capstone research project. Lengerich said faculty members encourage flexibility so students can take on a project in a setting in which they work.

For instance, Guy Moon, a recent graduate from the public health preparedness program, based his project on work he was doing while deployed in Afghanistan with the Nebraska Army National Guard. Moon was the officer-in-charge of a National Guard agribusiness development team focused on food security issues.

He collected his data in the field and completed the project once he returned to the United States.

“We are trying to literally help their farming communities feed their families,” Moon said. “I don’t think there is a better way to address a counter-insurgency mission than getting into the community and building trust with the people you are trying to help.”

To learn more about the master’s degree with the public health preparedness option, visit the program’s website. For more information about the certificate program, visit its website.

Last Updated October 02, 2014