COVID-19 Pandemic Inspiring People to Attend Public Health Schools

Motivated by the pandemic and what some are calling "the Fauci effect," nationwide applications to public health schools are rapidly increasing. We're seeing an even bigger jump at San Diego colleges and universities

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The COVID-19 pandemic has put an enormous strain on the public health and medical fields. But many experts say the crisis is inspiring the next generation of doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.

According to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, Public health schools in the United States saw a 23% jump in applicants for master’s and doctoral programs from fall 2019 to fall 2020. They are seeing an even bigger jump in this year's applications for fall 2021.

"I think that now people are seeing what strong public health measures can do for our communities, in terms of bringing something as significant as the pandemic under control. It has inspired them to want to pursue this as a career," said Cheryl Anderson, dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health at UC San Diego. "The pandemic was really a master class in the power of public health to help us solve some of these big issues."

The numbers in San Diego, are even greater.

UC San Diego's Master of Public Health program received double the number of applications for Fall 2021 than Fall 2020. San Diego State's Public Health program, saw their graduate applications increase nearly by 70%.

"Applications to our public health program are actually out performing the university as a whole for graduate applications," said Stefan Hyman, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at SDSU.

Hyman said there are a number of reasons for the increase in public health applications. He said young people who are committed to social justice now view the field as a way to address racial inequities. Another is the increase in jobs virtually unknown before the pandemic - jobs like contact tracers, epidemiologists, data scientists and health consultants.

"There are perceptions there is going to be increased job opportunities in roles like contact tracing which probably a year ago were not on a lot of peoples radar," said Hyman.

"People are also providing their expert opinions to a variety of businesses about what to do and not to do in a safe way, so they can reopen and continue," said Eyal Oren, Interim Director of the School of Public Health at SDSU.

Another reason for the increase in interest is the so-called "Fauci effect,” named after U.S. health official Anthony Fauci.

"When you have scientists and public health practitioners like Dr. Fauci who have spent their entire careers really trying to get us to better understand how public health principals work, you can see why people are inspired to come into public health right now," Anderson said. "This has been a face and a voice of good science, good reason, really helping to keep us on a progressive path toward finding a way out of this pandemic. So the Fauci effect is real. He is the current generation and new schools of public health are training that next generation of leaders, who will be able to do what someone like Dr. Fauci has been able to do."

It's not just public health programs. San Diego State says applications to their medical and nursing programs are also on the rise.

A spokesperson for the USD Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science said they always had a high volume of applicants and that hasn't changed with the pandemic.

The $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan," signed by President Biden, includes nearly $8 billion “to establish, expand, and sustain a public health workforce” in state and local health departments.

"I think one of the silver linings coming out of the pandemic is that we are just going to have a much more robust infrastructure," said Hyman. "That’s combining really all of the interests of the students we educated in public health and investments being spoken about by Washington and the state."

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