The number of students enrolled as public health minors in the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies has increased significantly over the course of the last year in conjunction with the lasting presence and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university has seen a 70% increase in students declaring a minor in public health since last spring compared to the previous year, according to professor Laura Anderko, the faculty director of the public health minor program. The minor has been available to students of all four undergraduate schools since 2018.
Ana Maria Alonso Munana (COL ’22), a psychology major, said that she originally chose to minor in public health because it aligned with her field of study, but the COVID-19 pandemic only reaffirmed her decision.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, despite its terrible consequences, has given me the opportunity to look at a major public health issue from several different lenses in my public health courses,” Munana wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Furthermore, this pandemic has motivated me even more to keep learning with the goal of being part of positive change in the future.”
The recent surge in interest for a minor in public health is especially exciting because the program has attracted students from many different disciplines, according to Anderko.
“There is this wonderful exchange of ideas and perspectives because of the variety of the majors and the students,” Anderko said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It’s not just health care, people that want to learn more about public health. It makes the learning much richer.”
Many students minoring in public health are on the pre-med path, but the program has seen an influx from psychology and government majors, according to Anderko.
The public health minor is composed of three required courses — health concepts, epidemiology and a population health capstone — as well as three elective courses that go more in-depth into key concepts like health policy, health promotion, environmental health and global health.
Due to the pandemic, students are realizing that studying public health can complement many different majors and interests, according to Lauren Quick (NHS ’22), a nursing student who is pursuing a minor in public health.
“The pandemic has definitely highlighted the presence of public health issues, specifically surrounding accessibility and health equity,” Quick wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I think that more people will realize that when it comes to public health, everyone is a stakeholder and I hope that this will result in students bringing a concern for public health issues into different sectors.”
Public health has applications that extend far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and the field plays a vital role in many other professions and academic disciplines, according to Munana.
“Communities all over the world are in need of good Public Health initiatives to improve their quality of life,” Munana wrote. “From vaccination campaigns, family planning, to water policies or motor safety laws, public health professionals play a key role in disease prevention and education.”
The increasing popularity of studying public health is not unique to the public health minor. Many other health care-related university courses and programs have seen increased interest and enrollees, according to a university spokesperson.
“The School of Nursing & Health Studies had the most applications ever to its undergraduate programs at over 1,800,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Applications to the bachelor of science programs in nursing, global health, and health care management & policy rose this year.”
As the NHS has continued to grow, the university announced plans to split the NHS into two separate schools, the Georgetown School of Nursing and the Georgetown School of Health, by July 2022.
While the pandemic revealed many failings in current public health policy, Anderko remains optimistic about the future of health care and public health policymaking. The increase in the number of Georgetown students who desire to create change in the world through public health programs will have positive impacts on health care policy for years to come, according to Anderko.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Anderko said. “We’ve seen that a failure in basic public health concepts can lead to extreme pressure in our healthcare system and that we really have to work together, and that students that are recognizing the need to integrate public health into their work is only going to make us healthier.”