The Public Health major program provides School of Natural Sciences and Allied Health students with opportunities to explore many aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, from disease and injury prevention to physical and mental wellness.
Despite its challenges, the pandemic has “brought light to the major,” said Gifty Akomea Key, EdD, Assistant Professor, Health and Exercise Sciences, one of the department’s newest faculty members. “It’s happening, we’re living it. How epidemiology works, how clinical trials work—when I’m teaching about the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and its trials, students are seeing it and living it.”
Key said students are also seeing the multitude of career opportunities presented in their studies.
“With Public Health and Health Sciences majors, you can go into several different areas across the public, private, and government sectors, including work in medicine or counseling,” she said.
Key started in Cabrini’s Department of Health and Exercise Sciences in August 2020, coming to the University after helping to launch the public health associate program at Montgomery County Community College. Though some of her work at Cabrini has been virtual, Key said it has been exciting to teach the intro to Public Health course “not only to future public health practitioners, but also to students who want to keep up their health.”
Before her time in academia, she spent more than a decade with the New York City Department of Health’s environmental health bureau, where she served as a health inspector for food safety and sanitation, inspecting restaurants, schools, gyms, and other public establishments throughout the city’s five boroughs. Following a promotion to a training leadership position within the department, Key had an “a-ha moment,” discovering that she loved to teach.
Key left New York for Philadelphia in 2008, eventually pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at nearby St. Joseph’s University. Key’s experiences bring a variety of perspectives and considerations to her Cabrini students, who are learning the many potential career routes associated with a public health education.
“Public Health is a great major to consider if you know that you want to help people with their health, but you’re not sure how,” she said. “We learn about different critical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, as well as mental health. There’s so many aspects of public health that everyday students need to know for their own good living.”
Beyond career considerations, Key said public health curriculum—even just as an elective course—provides essential knowledge to students and their families. This knowledge is especially critical for navigating a global pandemic that affects everyone.
“It’s not just public health, but our everyday living,” she said. “You learn so much about your own health and position in society, from health benefits to Medicare and Medicaid. These are things we need to know not only for ourselves but also for our loved ones.”