Fast track to masters in public health

April 11, 2000

Robyn L. Loda

When you know what you really want to do with your life, why waste time? That's the idea behind a new agreement between Tulane and Dillard universities that will allow Dillard students to obtain both a bachelor of science degree from Dillard and a masters degree from Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in only five years--three years at Dillard and two at Tulane. Usually, obtaining these two degrees requires six years.

Peter J. Fos, associate professor of health systems management at Tulane and the special assistant to the dean for undergraduate relations in the public health school, says that this program puts students on the fast track to careers in public health.

"It seems logical to us," says Fos. "If students know they really want careers in public health, then let's give them to these students as quickly as they can get them. Let's prepare them for the public health school, then let's get them on the road."

Fos says Dillard and Tulane both benefit significantly from this union: Dillard, a historically African-American university that offers a degree in public health only at the undergraduate level, can use the number of its graduates who go on to obtain advanced degrees as a measure of its success, and the new program will entice more Dillard students to strive for a graduate degree. Tulane benefits by increasing the diversity of its student body.

"We're always striving to increase diversity in public health and in health-care professions," says Fos. "And African Americans, as well as other minorities, are under-represented in both the schools and the health-care profession."

The Dillard-Tulane five-year program in public health was the brainchild of Carlen McLin (PHTM 79, 88), chair of Dillards Division of Public Health. She planted the seed two years ago, and we went from there, explains Fos.

Ann C. Anderson, interim dean of the school of public health, thinks the program, which was implemented in 1999, is a hit. "We are delighted with our partnership with Dillard University," she says. "Programs such as this build collaboration and strengthen us among New Orleans universities and within the academic community."

Dillard students enrolling in the program opt for a specialized undergraduate curriculum that compresses four years of undergraduate coursework in public health into three years. Students then spend the fourth and fifth years exclusively taking Tulane public health courses. The curriculum is rigorous, particularly the third year, says Fos. "It's not for everyone," he acknowledges. "But for highly motivated students, it's ideal for getting out a full year sooner."

The new program only offers degrees in health systems management and community health sciences at the moment. But opportunities to expand the program are under way, says Anderson. She hopes the cooperative relationship with Dillard will grow to include other public health disciplines, adding that there are already plans for a program in which Dillard students in mathematics can transfer to Tulane to obtain masters degrees in biostatistics.

Fos says there are currently 11 students enrolled in Dillards undergraduate program who are on track for a Tulane graduate degree. The first of these students is scheduled to enroll at Tulane in fall 2001. Tulane anticipates that as many as 30 students per year may enter the public health school through this program during the next five years. Fos is encouraged by the results so far.

"Not only do I think that this program will be very successful," he says, "I believe it will become a model for other schools and universities."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000