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MCLA's Biology Department Adds Majors in Health Sciences, Community Health Education


Big changes are headed to MCLA’s Department of Biology this fall, as two new majors and two new concentrations are added. In addition, new Biology faculty will be joining MCLA.

Students may now opt to major in Health Sciences – which will prepare them for careers in physical therapy, nursing, or as a physician assistant or an occupational therapist – or in Community Health Education, which addresses a growing demand for health care educators, both locally and nationwide.

MCLA is the first public institution in the Commonwealth to offer this type of Health Sciences major. This new Bachelor of Science degree will be available as a general major or with four different concentrations: pre-physician assistant, pre-physical therapy, pre-occupational therapy, or medical technology, all of which will prepare students to pursue advanced study or immediate employment in a variety of health fields.

 “They are going to provide some exceptional new opportunities for our students,” said Dr. Anne Goodwin, chair of MCLA’s Biology Department. “The internships and professional associations, as well as the articulation agreements we have in place, are really exciting.”

The general Health Sciences degree allows students to pursue careers and advanced study in a variety of health fields. Those who want to become physical therapists will have the opportunity to observe professionals at local physical therapy offices, and to take relevant courses in MCLA’s Athletic Training program. An articulation agreement with the Sage Colleges in Albany, N.Y., gives qualified applicants from MCLA’s pre-physical therapy concentration preferred admission to its Doctor of Physical Therapy program.  

Students enrolled in the pre-occupational therapy concentration also may benefit from local occupational therapist contacts and an agreement giving qualified applicants from MCLA preferred admission to the Master of Science degree program in occupational therapy at Sage.

Through a third articulation agreement, MCLA students who have completed the prerequisite coursework and other requirements will enjoy preferred admission to the Master of Science in Nutrition program at Sage. The general Health Sciences degree can support advanced study in nutrition and other fields, and provides the prerequisite coursework for post-baccalaureate nursing programs.

Students who are interested in becoming physician assistants may enroll in the pre-physician assistant concentration and complete required clinical hours by working as a nursing assistant at a local hospital or nursing home, or as an emergency medical technician or medical scribe at a local hospital.

Those who opt to enroll in the medical technology concentration will graduate as certified medical technologists and immediately can work in that field. According to Goodwin, all recent MCLA graduates of that program have passed the certification exam and gained employment as medical technologists.   

MCLA’s new Bachelor of Science degree in Health Education addresses a growing need for health educators, Goodwin said.

Community health educators are employed by government offices, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, medical facilities and workplaces. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024 – faster than the average of all occupations. As of May 2015, Massachusetts was one of the top five states for employment of community health workers.

Students who complete this program may take the Certified Health Education Specialist exam to find immediate employment after graduation or pursue graduate study in areas such as public health.

MCLA will welcome three new faculty members to its Biology Department this fall to teach courses for these new majors, as well as in the newly restructured biology degree. They include Dr. George Hamaoui, whose research focuses on microbial communities in both soil and animals; Dr. Matthew Kostek, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and an American Colleges of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified exercise physiologist, who will focus his research of the adoption and maintenance of physical activity, and on the physical and mental efforts of short-term and long-term exercise; and Dr. Nicole Porther, a specialist in public and community health, will be the coordinator of the Community Health Education program. She will focus her research on the cultural, social and environmental barriers and inequities involved in the prevalence of renal disease, as well as on molecular markers of renal disease.

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