February 26, 2016

UAMS COPH 4+1 Program Puts Students on Fast Track for MPH

U A M S College of Public Health SealSome say, “There is no shortcut to success.”

Three graduates of the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health (COPH) who participated in the COPH’s 4+1 Program might disagree.

The 4+1 Program, which is a partnership between UAMS and several Arkansas institutions, enables academically motivated students to earn a bachelor’s degree, as well as a master’s degree in public health (MPH), in just five years.

Today, one of the former 4+1 scholars is a consultant for a large federal health agency, another is pursuing a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, and the third is working for a health nonprofit in Little Rock while completing a master’s degree in public service (MPS) at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Three of Arkansas’ historically black colleges and universities — Philander Smith College and Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff — have sent some of their best and brightest to the innovative COPH 4+1 Program. The private, selective Hendrix College in Conway is also a 4+1 partner.

Taking on graduate studies while still a college sophomore or junior is not for everyone, but for these three 4+1 scholars, it jump-started their careers in public health.

One is Michael Grier, MPH, now only in his mid-20s, who works as a consultant on HIV policy for the Health Resources and Services Administration, a large federal agency in Washington, DC. Mr. Grier learned about the 4+1 Program from his advisor, Cynthia Burroughs, Ph.D., at Philander Smith College. The program enabled him to count some MPH course credits towards his biology degree, saving him time and money. Support from both Dr. Burroughs and COPH helped him adjust to the new demands of the program.

“I had a view of graduate school — inaccessible professors who focused only on their research,” Mr. Grier said. “The College dismissed those fears in seconds of walking through the door. I felt welcomed and found professors who knew I was an undergrad and wanted to cultivate my talent and develop me into a successful student.”

The COPH’s engaging atmosphere also resonated with Etienne Nzabarushimana, MPH, who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the School of Informatics and Computing with a specialty in Bioinformatics at Indiana University Bloomington.

“One of the great things about the 4+1 Program and the COPH in general is the fact that you have a great opportunity to interact with faculty and staff in a way that encourages hands-on and engaged learning,” said Mr. Nzabarushimana, who came to the United States in 2009 as a Rwandan Presidential Scholar. While majoring in chemistry at Hendrix College, he learned about the 4+1 program. At COPH, Mr. Nzabarushimana completed a preceptorship in the lab of Igor Koturbash, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the COPH Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. He was part of a team researching the epigenetic effects of radiation.

“For me, the 4+1 program is unique for it afforded me an opportunity to interact with public health professionals (both in academia and outside) while still doing my undergraduate studies,” Mr. Nzabarushimana said. “It put me in an interdisciplinary atmosphere that cultivated and stimulated both my intellectual growth and discovery.”

When LaKaija Johnson, MPH, was biology major at Philander Smith College, her advisor encouraged her to consider the 4+1 program. Although a strong student, she found navigating graduate school while still an undergraduate a bit challenging at first.

“While it was very difficult at times, I quickly found a source of support and tips on adjusting in the UAMS Center for Diversity Affairs,” Ms. Johnson said.

She says she would recommend a public health degree to other science majors.

“I would encourage any student with an interest in STEM to learn more about the wide array of opportunities that exist in public health,” she said.

Ms. Johnson aspires to work in health policy to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. She will complete her MPS at the Clinton School this spring and has her sights set on a doctoral program in public health leadership.

Ms. Johnson, Mr. Grier and Mr. Nzabarushima are typical of the students attracted to the 4+1 program, said Kevin Ryan, J.D., MA, COPH’s Associate Dean for Professional Programs and Co-Director of DrPH Programs.

“Without exception, they want to do big things — go on to other graduate programs, start new programs, go back to their hometowns and make something happen,” Prof. Ryan said.

High academic achievement is also typical of 4+1 students. Although many are first in their families to attend college, they excel.

“Here they are, 20- or 21-year-olds who have not even earned a bachelor’s degree, able to hold their own,” Prof. Ryan observed. “They have to be the stronger students, able to take on more course work in what is akin to skipping several grades, going from elementary to middle school.”

Despite the challenges of the program, all three former 4+1 students said they are grateful for its defining impact on their lives.

“Without the 4+1 program, I would have never interned at the Arkansas Department of Health and started my career in public service,” Mr. Grier said. “I’m not sure where I’d be or what I’d be doing, but I know I wouldn’t be 26 with an MPH and a career in a field I’m passionate about in a city I love.”