Dru Bhattacharya, Director of the Health Policy Track, MPH Program, Loyola University Chicago

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Dru Bhattacharya, Director of the health policy track of the MPH program at Loyola University Chicago, joins us today to discuss public health education.

#1 Can you tell us about the online MPH programs offered at Loyola University Chicago?

The health policy track of the MPH program is committed to training the next generation of heath advocates and professionals, including public health practitioners, healthcare providers and administrators, scientists, business executives, and public officials.  Candidates utilize curricular, research, and practice-oriented opportunities to become exceptional health advocates and analysts on pressing public health issues, with particular emphasis on domestic and global health disparities among vulnerable populations.

#2 How long does a typical online MPH program take at Loyola University Chicago? What is the maximum and minimum time of completion?

Most candidates will complete their program requirements within 1.5-2 years. All students must complete their degree requirements within 5 years of beginning the first course taken as a degree-seeking student.

#3 What do you think makes Loyola University Chicago MPH stand out from other online MPH programs?

Our program is inherently interdisciplinary.  Conceptually, health policy is a watershed for public health because it’s an umbrella for many subdisciplines, but we actually equip our students with the knowledge and skills to confidently explore issues from multiple angles. My students, for example, explore the intersection of public health problems across numerous disciplines, including politics, ethics, economics, epidemiology, and law, as well as the traditional allied fields of medicine and nursing. This approach draws upon the strengths of our faculty, the majority of whom have backgrounds in multiple disciplines (e.g., policy, law, epidemiology, biostatistics, management, medicine, etc).

#4 How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online MPH program?

Accreditation is certainly important insofar as it standardizes excellence in education, which can then be translated in a practice setting. Towards that end, our program will be applying for formal accreditation through the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), which is the only independent agency recognized to accredit graduate public health programs.

#5 There is some debate as to whether or not online MPH degrees are as worthwhile as traditional MPH degrees. What steps does Loyola University Chicago take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they’d receive in a classroom?

Our program was designed exclusively for an online candidate. Therefore, many of the issues that confront programs that must assure a comparable education with their in-class counterparts simply do not arise.  There are many advantages to our online program, including flexibility, enhanced structure, and the utilization of technology. The flexibility afforded candidates to review materials on their own time is particularly attractive to individuals who work, and appreciate greater control over their schedule. Some students prefer to review materials all at once over the weekend, while others may spread out their workload over the course of the week.  Also, our  online program requires consistent structure through weekly modules with explicit lesson objectives, and attendant materials. This enhanced structure is not necessarily guaranteed in a traditional in-class experience.  And the availability of current technology to provide a streamlined interface of audio and/or video interaction via live or recorded materials, in addition to the provision of materials, is revolutionizing how we educate a new generation of students. As the technology continues to improve, we will strengthen opportunities to communicate, and share information in ways that we can only imagine.

#6 What are the advantages to earning a MPH degree in general?

People are attracted to public health for a variety of reasons. Some are aspiring health professionals who want to complement their formal training in an allied health field (e.g., medicine, nursing, physical or occupational therapy); others come from the social sciences, humanities, or other non-health related disciplines (e.g., law, business); and still others who may be professionals who simply want a career change. Everyone, however, is united in a higher calling of advocating for the health of vulnerable populations. The advantages of an MPH are as diverse as the individuals who pursue it, and include competency across a variety of core disciplines, enhanced training in qualitative and quantitative methods for research and data analysis, and the development and cultivation of leadership skills alongside a team-oriented mindset, which is indispensable to a public health practitioner.

#7 Does Loyola University Chicago offer job placement for students who graduate in public health?

Our faculty is very supportive of candidates who seek assistance with job placement after graduation. Although we do not have a formal job placement program, we extend our support by helping candidates identify potential opportunities that may later materialize in long-term employment, provide letters of recommendation and support, and encourage networking through multiple venues to maximize opportunities to engage recruiters and identify job openings in a candidate’s particular field of interest.

#8 What type of financial aid packages are available for students in public health? Are there any fellowships, grants and scholarships available?

As graduate students, public health students are eligible to receive traditional financial aid packages that may consist of a combination of public and private loans and/or work-study programs. Generally, there are a number of scholarships available, but may be highly specific to a student’s background, school, and particular field of interest. This is also true for students who seek paid internships during the summer or for satisfying practicum and/or capstone requirements. We assist students in identifying available opportunities for internships and related programs, whether on campus or through another organization (e.g., CDC).  Students are highly encouraged to identify as many opportunities as possible to maximize their chances of securing assistance.

#9 Do you have any advice for students enrolling in an online MPH program for the first time?

The flexibility of having control over your online schedule comes with a heightened responsibility to stay on top of your coursework, and meet deadlines. As one student once told me, ‘the time flies by,’ so make sure you set aside a period of time that you can devote to your studies consistently so you don’t find yourself overwhelmed half-way through the semester.  Also, make sure that you have access to a computer that meets the minimum requirements to run whatever software or program that your school will use for its virtual interface.

#10 What do you enjoy most about your position at Loyola University Chicago?

The diversity of our students and faculty makes for a thrilling educational experience because everyone brings a unique perspective to understand and analyze a public health problem. And the more we know, the better we are to address (and hopefully ameliorate) the pressing burdens of morbidity and mortality confronting vulnerable populations domestically and abroad. I also enjoy working with students across the spectrum of their educational experience—from the new student who is still trying to figure out what they’re doing to those on the verge of graduation as they embark on new pursuits.  It’s a privilege for me to be part of that experience.

For more information on the online MPH programs offered at Loyola University Chicago, visit them online at: http://www.mph.lumc.edu/health-policy-law.html

Thank you Dru, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!

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