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Credentials for Success: Distance learning aids Georgia's public health practitioners
Hollard Phillips and Gary Helmuth worry about the health of Georgians in different parts of the state. Helmuth serves as an environmental health specialist in Forsyth County, one of metro Atlanta's booming counties. A few hundred miles away, Phillips directs the Office of Infectious Diseases for the Southeast Health District in Waycross, a rural town in the lower eastern corner of the state.
     The distance between their offices and the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) poses no barrier when it comes to advancing their respective careers. Both are students in the Career Master of Public Health (CMPH), the distance-learning program that enables public health professionals in Georgia and beyond to earn an MPH degree while they work.
     For Phillips, working in rural Georgia has its share of challenges. The distance-learning program at the RSPH is helping him address these issues more effectively.
I've gained a vast amount of knowledge, wisdom, and skills," says Phillips, who receives his degree in May.
"Budget cuts have challenged us to seek alternative funding, so the grant writing class was a tremendous help.
Also, with public health needing to promote its services and determine cost of services, the courses on cost effectiveness, fundamentals of finance, and public health evaluations provided the knowledge, tools, and skills necessary to prepare me for ‘the future of public health.' "
     For Helmuth, the CMPH program has broadened his understanding of how public health programs are designed and how they can be improved, especially at the local level. Such knowledge helps him contend with the pressures of population growth and development in Forsyth County. "My office [Environmental Health} specifically deals with land use issues such as on-site sewage management system placement," he says. "Internally, we must deal with the changing environment of the county from rural to urban. We have concentrated more on land use, and we will increasingly face more institutional concerns, such as monitoring more food service establishments."
     Helmuth and Phillips enrolled in the CMPH through the Georgia Public Health Preparedness Scholars Program, funded by the Centers for Public Health Preparedness, a CDC-funded initiative, to assist public health practitioners in Georgia. Without scholarship support, both would have been unable to participate in the program.
     A new grant from the Georgia Health Foundation will make it possible for other professionals in the state to receive a degree through the CMPH. The $75,000 grant, combined with matching funds from the RSPH, will provide full tuition for up to five students who are now being recruited for this fall. Based in Atlanta, the Georgia Health Foundation supports charitable, scientific, and educational efforts that improve the health of Georgians.
     The grant to the RSPH was the first to be made based on the foundation's newly refined strategy to address Georgia's most pressing health needs. The strategy is based on input from community leaders.
     "We see increasingly that public health is very important to Georgia," says Nancy Paris, vice chair of the foundation and president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education. "We have many more resources today for treating disease and promoting health and wellness. Still, it's not enough. Having talented public health leaders in Georgia can make an enormous difference. The way to achieve that is to provide educational support for people committed to the health and well-being of Georgians and give them the credentials for success."


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