Rollins College, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, is launching a new bachelor’s degree in community health, with the goal of helping students understand the healthcare issues impacting Central Floridians and develop and implement strategies to address them.

The major will be offered through Rollins’ Professional Advancement program and launches in Fall 2023.

As part of the program, students will study the root causes of health inequalities across various segments of the community—from food insecurity and housing inequality to health disparities faced by LGBTQ+ and immigrant populations.

The major includes three required core courses; three electives focused on health equity; three electives providing interdisciplinary perspectives ranging from Medical Ethics to Environmental Crisis in Its Cultural Context; and a senior capstone course, where students apply the knowledge they’ve learned while working with local nonprofits like the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Farmworker Association of Florida.

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“Rollins’ strength in experiential learning—particularly around community engagement and social innovation—will help prepare students for careers in community health,” said Anne Stone, a communications professor who helped propose the new major and will teach courses in the program. “Community-based research projects that allow students to apply the knowledge and methods they’re learning in local contexts will be an important part of each student’s coursework. These courses will require students to complete a minimum of 15 hours outside of class time with a community organization, providing students important practical experience and building their credibility as professionals.”

Anthropology professor and global health coordinator Shan-Estelle Brown helped developed Rollins College’s new community health major and will teach courses in the program. Photo by Scott Cook.

According to the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, conducted by local hospitals in the Winter Park, Fla. area, Central Floridians’ top three concerns are access to mental health services, access to care, and food insecurity.

Orlando also has the third-highest rate of HIV/AIDS diagnoses, and Florida ranks fourth in the nation for the highest homeless population, behind California, New York and Washington.

The need for knowledgeable community health practitioners is high, with recent headlines around the globe calling out everything from monkeypox and COVID-19 to the Flint water crisis and the opioid epidemic. These experts help analyze, interpret and communicate crises and trends and also serve as valuable messengers between their communities and health-care professionals.

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By 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 21 percent increase in employment opportunities for community health practitioners, including biostatisticians, epidemiologists, public health administrators, public health communicators, emergency preparedness responders, and public health researchers. Employment projections in Central Florida echo those numbers with a 19 percent increase in opportunities for jobs in the education and health services sector.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and other health crises are reminders of the need for knowledgeable and culturally competent community health workers,” Stone said. “This program will provide students with the knowledge, skills and cultural competence to address Central Florida’s community health needs.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Rollins College website.

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