Bachelor of Health Science Program at the College of Public Health and Health Professions

The educational programs at the UF Health Science Center are, for the most part, focused on professional degrees. But did you know that more than 500 students have chosen an undergraduate pre-professional major in health science at the College of Public Health and Health Professions?

To prepare students interested in advanced health degrees with core skills beyond the basic sciences, the Bachelor of Health Science program was developed in 2000. This innovative program offers an intriguing option for many undergraduates interested in one of the health professions.

Suppose you are an undergraduate thinking about medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine as a career, or about becoming a physician assistant, physical therapist, hospital administrator or occupational therapist. Nationally, each of these fields prescribes science courses that are typically prerequisites for admission to their respective professional schools. These courses are a must; but what about a major? Such students traditionally major in one of the basic sciences, as is often appropriate for those who are drawn to such fields. Of course, students with specific interests in music, art, the humanities or social sciences are encouraged to pursue those interests, as there will be many science courses in their future tailored to their professional field.

As an alternative pre-professional major at UF, the BHS degree at PHHP forges an important and novel middle road emphasizing a range of foundational skills necessary to succeed in our evolving and dynamic health care environment. Building on required pre-professional science courses, but also incorporating the methods and perspectives of the social sciences and humanities, all students are grounded in individual and community-based health care. Students learn crucial aspects of healthy human functioning, disease and disability; scientific bases of health assessment, intervention and research; Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance systems; public health priorities; and ethical and professional issues associated with our complex health care delivery systems. Taking courses offering content in areas such as epidemiology and health policy, students develop specific skills in information literacy, critical thinking, decision-making and professional and interprofessional communication. Depending on their projected career, students can choose from a number of upper division electives in psychology, public health, occupational therapy, and communication sciences and disorders. They learn from faculty across the disciplines in PHHP and study side-by-side with other students who aspire to make a difference in people’s lives.

Of note, the BHS major at UF involves a competitive admissions process at the junior level, in which students have already completed 60 college credit hours. To enrich the undergraduate experience, the BHS Program has initiated a peer mentorship program called LEAP (Lead, Educate, Advocate, Philanthropy), which was the brainchild of a BHS student (Stephanie Salabarria) highlighted below. The primary purpose of LEAP is to connect freshman and sophomore students interested in the health sciences with current juniors and seniors who are enrolled in the BHS program. Additionally, beginning in the fall semester 2014, incoming juniors will be required to complete a professional development course that will span the length of the program. Students will have the opportunity to hone their resumes, learn valuable interviewing skills, talk with professionals from various disciplines and develop a professional identity.

In recent years, about 215 juniors at UF have been admitted to the BHS program across the three health science tracks. The tracks are typically distributed as follows: 120 general health science students, 45 to 55 pre-OT students and 45 to 55 pre-public health students. A survey of graduating students last year revealed that students in the largest track, general health science, selected careers shown in the table below:

Medicine 36% OT 4%
Physician Assistant 20% Pharmacy 2%
Physical Therapy 18% Optometry 1%
Nursing 7% Psychology 1%
Health Administration 6% Other 1%
Dentistry 4%    

Of those applying to graduate or professional school, 87% had been accepted, both at UF and at excellent universities around the country.

The students in the BHS program reflect a great diversity of backgrounds and interests, as can be seen in the following vignettes:

Kellie Krueger is a junior from Pensacola with a major in the general health science track and a minor in leadership at IFAS. Influenced by her father, who was trained as a physical therapist but who developed a career as an administrator in a national health care company, Kellie knew she was interested in doing something related to health, although not as a practitioner. During an internship at a hospital system in her community, she became fascinated by the health care system and how it operates, which led to her decision to pursue a master’s degree in health administration. She believes that the BHS program is providing a superb background for her subsequent graduate work, citing the course on the “U.S. Health System” as an excellent foundation, and the insights about research she is gaining from her own BHS honors project. Supervised by Michael Moorhouse, Ph.D., an assistant professor and director of the BHS program, Kellie’s research project uses survey methods and observational data to test the hypothesis that texting while driving at UF is higher than the national average of 7%, and higher among males than females. She states that she “loves how PHHP nurtures the learning process — not only through peers who share common interests, but through dedicated faculty like Dr. Moorhouse, who get you where you want to be in the classroom and also in your career.”

Reginald (Reggie) Warren is a senior from Kissimmee in the pre-public health track. Reggie initially planned to become a pharmacist. After he spent time in both retail and hospital pharmacies, however, he realized that he wanted more direct interaction with people. He then volunteered at Streetlight, an adolescent and young adult support program here at UF Health for people ages 13 to 25 living with cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell and other chronic and life-limiting illnesses. Created by Rebecca Brown, Streetlight director, the Streetlight team is made up of 60+ college-aged volunteers that focus on building friendships through peer companionship. Through this program, Reggie was able to recognize his passion for working with issues surrounding adolescent health. In addition, Reggie volunteered at HealthStreet, which is a community-based effort that works to reduce disparities in health care and research by linking the medically underserved to medical and social services and opportunities to participate in research. Developed by Linda Cottler, Ph.D., a professor and chair of epidemiology, HealthStreet involves community health workers who meet residents at health fairs, special events, bus stops, parks, laundromats, grocery stores, libraries and other locations in North Central Florida. Reggie would ultimately like to create a health education-based community health program to benefit underserved adolescent and women populations. He “loves the BHS program because it is so intimate, a place where you know your fellow students and your professors by name, and they know you.” Most of his classes have 30 students or less. He has been tremendously influenced by international experiences afforded by the SIT Abroad, International Honors Program, where he traveled to in India, Argentina and South Africa, studying public health. Reggie credits his advisor, Mary Ellen Young, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral science, “not only for her excellent courses, but for her consistent guidance, encouragement and opening doors such as this position as a research assistant.” Reggie plans to pursue a Master of Public Health degree with a primary focus in maternal and child health.

Stephanie Salabarria is a junior from Miami in the general health science track, who entered UF as a pre-med student. In her “Preview” prior to starting Summer B, she found out about the BHS major as an alternative to a typical pre-med major in biology or chemistry. She spent her first two years at UF taking the usual pre-med prerequisites, and also pursuing courses in art, which was her passion throughout childhood. Now finishing her third year at UF and her first in the BHS program, she particularly enjoys the opportunity to work with students who plan to enter other health professions such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology and public health. In her future training and practice, Kellie knows that she “will be part of a health care team, so it’s great to learn that way from the beginning.” She also has enjoyed being introduced to health care administration, even though she has no plans to focus on the business side of medicine. Stephanie’s interest in pursuing a career in medicine was reinforced by a Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic, where she participated actively as part of a health care team providing essential services to those in need. She has come to realize that she has a “surgical personality,” in that she would prefer to enter a branch of medicine in which a problem can be clearly identified and fixed definitively. Choosing such a field also suits her up-at-dawn surgical biorhythm. Right now, although there will be plenty of time to change her mind, Stephanie is thinking about becoming a pediatric surgeon.

The stories of these three individuals are inspiring and send a strong signal that the BHS program is succeeding in its mission of providing a well-rounded foundation for a wide variety of students interested in health-related careers. Among these BHS students will be our future health care providers, public health specialists, educators, researchers and leaders. 

Forward Together,

David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D.
UF Senior Vice President for Health Affairs
President, UF Health