CORVALLIS - A cooperative program that provides a master's degree in public health to university students in Oregon - and allows them to specialize in one of several areas of public health - has received preliminary accreditation.

Only 27 other programs in the United States have been accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.

The cooperative education effort, known as the Oregon Master of Public Health program, consists of seven academic areas offered at Oregon State University, Oregon Health Sciences University and Portland State University.

OSU offers tracks in gerontology, health policy and management, and public health promotion and education. OHSU focuses on epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as public health nursing. PSU program tracks include health administration and policy and health education and promotion.

Students in the program take a core of classes in public health, then select one of the tracks to receive a specialized education. The program gives students an opportunity to tap into a deep, varied pool of professional expertise, officials say.

"The shared resources of OSU, OHSU and PSU in areas of teaching, public service and research allow us to deliver a program we think is unsurpassed nationally," said Rebecca Donatelle, chair of the Department of Public Health at OSU. "We avoid duplication and instead focus on institutional strengths."

The program also is flexible enough to allow part-time students and working professionals to take classes afternoons and evenings, Donatelle said. OSU, for example, is developing several intensive weekend courses and distance education models for serving professionals in remote regions of the state.

Since the Oregon Master of Public Health program began in 1993, 230 students have enrolled. Graduates of the program are finding employment opportunities in a variety of private and public sector jobs, officials say.

"One of the strengths of the program is that it is a very applied degree in which students must complete a major field-based practicum," Donatelle said. "Students benefit from mentorship programs with Oregon's working professionals, and employers have responded positively to our graduates entering the job market."

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Becky Donatelle, 541-737-3824