(AUSTIN, TX) — The Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health recently honored its first group of Austin distance education students, as each of the 18 soon-to-be graduates will receive a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in epidemiology and environmental health.

From left, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David L. Lakey, M.D.; Sharon Cooper, Ph.D., head and professor of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health; and Ciro Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., dean and Cox Endowed Chair of HSC-SRPH, recognized the first group of HSC-SRPH M.P.H. Austin distance education graduates at a recent ceremony.

The HSC-SRPH is the first to offer the M.P.H. degree in Austin. Eleven of these 18 students are employed by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), particularly in the field of emergency preparedness, a perfect fit with training in epidemiology and environmental health.

“I am proud of the role the School of Rural Public Health played in establishing an M.P.H. program in Austin, which provides vital public health training that will ultimately increase DSHS effectiveness,” said Ciro Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., dean and Cox Endowed Chair of the HSC-SRPH during an April 26 ceremony.

DSHS Commissioner David L. Lakey, M.D., said, “This century no doubt will continue to give us unprecedented threats to the public’s health. Our success in dealing with those threats and with the normal health challenges will depend largely on having a public health protection system of well-trained professionals. These graduates certainly will enhance those ranks. We need them, and we need more like them.”

It is estimated nearly 80 percent of the public health work force does not have any formal training in public health. The HSC-SRPH, the first in the country with a rural focus, takes an active role in educating that work force by offering advanced degrees in public health at its College Station main campus and through distance education sites in Laredo, McAllen, Temple and Austin.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its six components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, and the School of Rural Public Health.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell