A One Health Challenge

An Innovative Approach to Graduate Public Health Education

The Master of Public Health (MPH) Program at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas (USA) is not what one would normally expect from graduate public health education.  While a few other Master of Public Health programs in the United States are aligned with a College of Veterinary Medicine, K-State’s program is housed in one.  And, four other colleges on the campus are partners to make it truly interdisciplinary. 

Started in the fall semester of 2003, the Kansas State MPH Program was initiated as a collaboration of the Graduate School and the Colleges of Agriculture, Arts & Sciences, Human Ecology, and Veterinary Medicine, with the first interim director from Human Ecology.  This innovative approach was both cost effective and efficient with its use of existing infrastructure, faculty and courses.  Today, the college partners are still the same, and the program has its first full-time Director, Mike Cates, DVM, MPH, also a Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Cates is the former Chief of the Army Veterinary Corps and the first veterinarian to serve as the Commanding General of the Army’s main public health organization, the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine as well as the Surgeon General’s primary senior executive on Preventive Medicine and Public Health. 

The partnership, crossing traditional college boundaries at Kansas State University, has a definite advantage for students.   There are over 55 different faculty members affiliated with the MPH Program, from 8 departments in the 4 participating academic colleges.  This variety of disciplines and research interests opens a wealth of possibilities for students, who, despite the newness of the program and the relatively small size, can choose between four distinct areas of emphasis—Infectious Diseases and Zoonoses; Food Safety and Biosecurity; Public Health Nutrition; and Public Health Physical Activity.  Dr. Cates noted “The faculty members here are extraordinary experts in many different areas which impact on animal, human and/or environmental health.  You will probably not find such a unique blend anywhere else.”

That uniqueness and breadth has led to significant growth in enrollment.  When Dr. Cates arrived in January 2009, the program had an enrollment of 26 students; today, there are 75.  One noticeable trait of the program is the high interest level of veterinarians, veterinary students and even pre-professional students to pursue the MPH degree or the Graduate Certificate in Public Health Core Concepts.  Right now, over half of the MPH students fit into one of those veterinary-related categories.  Overall, the program has attracted outstanding domestic and international students from over 15 disciplines, including medicine, nursing, dentistry, human nutrition, kinesiology, animal science, food science and several others, from 17 states and 11 different countries.

The future looks bright for even more opportunities for students and graduates of this program, with the arrival of two major federal laboratories—the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and the Arthropod Borne Animal Disease Research Unit—a continuing and growing culture of teamwork across the state.  The program is exploring ways to collaborate with the University of Kansas’ more traditional program, and the two universities already play active roles in the state’s Public Health Systems Group, involving local and state governmental agencies along with foundations and other health-related stakeholders, and the Public Health Workforce Development Group.  In another example, Kansas State MPH faculty and students help in public health outreach, education and research with the university’s One Health Kansas and Pathways to Public Health initiatives, aiming to raise awareness and interest in public health, starting with children in kindergarten, and ultimately to improve the numbers and quality of educated professionals in the public health workforce. 

A crucial component of the tremendous growth of the K-State MPH Program is the interest, advocacy and support from the university’s administrative leadership, particularly the college deans and the past and present university provosts and presidents.  “Without the consistent and adequate support of the university and the college leaders, such an innovative interdisciplinary approach to education would not succeed,” Dr. Cates noted.  “We are very fortunate here to have visionaries who are willing to fund non-traditional approaches in a field where multidisciplinary methods really make the most sense. Prevention is the best way to health, and collaboration is key.  Together, we must set a ‘one health’ example among all stakeholders, for improved community health throughout our state and beyond.” 

Dr. Carol Ann Holcomb, first Interim Director of MPH Program, receiving Excellence in Public Health Award from Dr. Mike Cates.

Mike Cates, DVM, MPH, current Director, MPH Program

New MPH and Public Health Graduate Certificate Students for Fall 2010

Picture from campus