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The first cohort of the online master in public health program with Elizabeth McFarlane (front).

The first cohort of students in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa online master of public health (MPH) program praise its flexibility and the opportunity to be able to work remotely while earning their degrees. The program was launched this fall by the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.

Related: Online master’s degree in public health caters to ‘growing’ pandemic demands

The program was created for people who are working full time but want to expand their career options, as well for those living and working on the neighbor islands, the continental U.S. or in the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Jurisdictions. The 15 students currently enrolled come from Hawaiʻi, Michigan, Georgia, Maryland, Saipan, Guam and American Samoa.

“There’s great need in Hawaiʻi to support the health workforce with public health training and to offer advanced degrees that don’t require workers to leave their jobs and relocate to Oʻahu,” said Elizabeth McFarlane, director of the online MPH program.

All courses are asynchronous, so students can complete their coursework as their schedules allow. They can take the full-time course load and complete the program in two years, or have the option to attend part-time and can earn their degree in three years or longer. Students also complete a practicum requirement, which can be completed where they live or through telework arrangements.

Students from near and far

For Justin Mortensen, who earned his bachelor’s degree in public health at UH Mānoa and then began working as a health educator with the Georgia Department of Public Health, the best part of the program is the interaction with faculty and classmates.

“We don’t meet in person, but we still interact and learn from each other,” Mortenson said. “The way the courses are designed really fosters communication. The group projects have become my favorite aspect of the program.”

Mercedes Bazzone, who lives on Oʻahu and works full time for a medical device company, appreciates the program’s flexibility and access to UH campus resources.

“With all my commitments, it’s nice to be able to complete my coursework as my schedule allows. I can use the library, and my son goes to the preschool on campus. It’s the best of both worlds,” Bazzone said.

Lesley Abonales has lived on Guam her whole life, and the online MPH program offers an opportunity she would not otherwise have. She earned her bachelor’s in public health from the University of Guam, but the school does not offer graduate programs in public health. Abonales likes the emphasis that the UH program places on the health of Asians, Indigenous people including Native Hawaiians, and other under-researched minorities.

“My goal is to work in health policy or social services on Guam, and understanding the needs of these groups will be key to my work,” she said.

The program includes two in-person events. There is an orientation at the start of the semester and a research showcase where students present their projects mid-way through the semester.

“We want the students to develop a sense of connection to faculty members and other students,” McFarlane said.

For more information, call (808) 958-0919 or email phonline@hawaii.edu, or apply online.

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