RIC’s Community and Public Health Program Serves a Need in Rhode Island and Beyond

Community health workers

Rhode Island College is working hard to fill the gaps in health literacy and overcome language barriers in the state.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there are less than 60,000 community and public health professionals in the country for an estimated population of 331 million. Community and public health workers promote health and serve as advocates within a community by assisting individuals to adopt healthy behaviors and by implementing programs that promote, maintain and improve individual and overall community health. 

RIC’s relatively new B.S. in community and public health promotion at RIC is one of the majors that emerged from what used to be the B.S. in community health and wellness. This major has a strong focus on improving public health through the involvement of individuals, communities and community-based organizations. 

According to Associate Professor Soumyadeep Mukherjee, coordinator of the program, “The goal of the discipline is to improve individual and population health outcomes by assisting individuals and communities in voluntarily adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors and lifestyles.”

Mukherjee believes that by increasing the number of graduates from  community and public health programs, we can maintain a healthier Rhode Island. Careers in this field, he says, are for those who love working with the community to help prevent diseases; lead healthy, productive lives; and achieve health equity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare occupations are projected to grow at least 15 percent between 2019-2029.  

RIC’s program is divided into three tracks — health and aging, women’s health and public health promotion. It provides hands-on and in-class learning opportunities that focus on the core disciplines, including epidemiology, environmental health, nutrition, health literacy, health policy, health promotion and planning health programs. 

Throughout the curriculum, students explore contemporary public health challenges at local, national and global levels and study health determinants, such as systemic racism, social inequities, changing climate, access to health insurance, vaccines and other forms of healthcare and the availability of housing, safe water and sanitation. 

Students have a full semester internship either on campus or with a local community-based organization, that can range from community health centers, hospitals, research organizations or insurance agencies. 

“Even though this is an undergrad program, we have a strong focus on health research methods, health disparities and social justice,” Mukherjee says.

He notes that Rhode Island College is working hard to fill the gaps in health literacy and language barriers in the state. “Many of our students are bilingual. They bring in the aspect of language competency. Even those who are not multilingual learn to appreciate cultural sensitivity and humility,” he says.  

During their internship, students created for schoolchildren and their families manuals written in both Spanish and English on critically important health topics. Other interns have assisted organizations in grant writing, research and drafting reports. During the pandemic, interns have worked with schools, colleges and communities on vaccination campaigns and health promotion events, as well research projects led by program faculty. 

Graduates from this program are employed in state and local health departments, governmental and private health organizations, social service and community agencies, and nonprofit and for-profit health organizations, both within and beyond Rhode Island. 

“Some have gone on to pursue master’s degrees in recognized public health programs, such as Boston University and Emory University, and chosen to work in academia,” says Mukherjee. “There are others who have done all of the above. As program faculty, our duty is to help students recognize their preferences and to provide the best guidance possible.”