UGA becomes first member of the University System of Georgia to offer Ph.D. in Epidemiology

The University of Georgia will become the first institution of higher education in the University System of Georgia to offer a doctoral degree in Epidemiology. The move was approved by the Board of Regents during its September meeting, and the College of Public Health will begin conducting classes in Fall 2012.

The addition of a doctoral degree in Epidemiology further builds upon the fruitful growth and demonstrated successes of the College, which already offers a Masters of Public Health (MPH), as well as a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). By adding the doctoral program in Epidemiology, the College will offer specific, in-depth training in epidemiology, developing future researchers and educators for Georgia.

By becoming the first member of the University System of Georgia – and only the second school in the state – to offer a doctoral degree in the field, the College will provide the highest quality of training to epidemiologists, preparing them to serve the public health needs of the state, country and world.

“Epidemiology is considered the ‘basic science’ of public health, and this new degree will teach students how to become researchers and create new knowledge that addresses the challenges facing the fields of medicine and public health today,” said the Ernest Corn Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Christopher Whalen, MD, MS. “This new program will provide the focused, in-depth training and research opportunities that will best equip our future public health leaders to effectively and strategically address our most pressing health crises.”

The introduction of the program comes at a pivotal time for public health in Georgia as the state is facing a looming public health workforce shortage. The average age of public health employees in the state is 47 years old, and approximately 35 percent of the workforce is expected to retire in the coming decade.

The state’s steady population growth, particularly in the senior sector, promises to further exacerbate the shortfall. The number of Georgians 65 and older is projected to grow 78 percent between 2000 and 2020. Given that older adults have a higher demand for health care, Georgia’s existing shortage of public health professionals puts this high-need group at a disadvantage.

Additionally, Georgia ranks near the bottom nationally of most key health indicators. Despite being the ninth-largest state in the U.S., Georgia is 43rd in health rankings, 42nd in health systems performance and 48th in childhood obesity. Georgia’s African-American population, which makes up 30 percent of the state, suffers well-documented health disparities in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, stroke and HIV/AIDS.

The new Ph.D. program at the College will support state efforts to produce a new generation of epidemiologists who can lead public health research and academic programs, as well as serve as key experts in the community. As experts in a high-demand field in the scientific community, most graduates of epidemiological programs move directly into their first professional job, rather than spending three to five years in a post-doctoral fellowship.

The College will begin accepting applications for the new Ph.D. program at the beginning of January 2012.

Posted September 22, 2011.