EXPLORING THE IMPACT OF COMMUNITY HEALTH NEEDS ASSESSMENTS
Ken Slenkovich is the assistant dean of Kent State University’s College of Public Health and program director for the school’s online Master of Public Health program. Leveraging his diverse experience as a public health professional, with research endeavors that have focused on the operations of local health departments and community health needs assessment methodologies, Asst. Dean Slenkovich has helped to elevate and enrich our nationally celebrated online MPH program, even authoring an award-winning course for the program.1
SEXUALITY AND DISCOVERY IN THE ONLINE MPH
“Sex: A Wicked Health Problem,” which received the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Award in 2016,1 is an elective course that challenges students to apply evidence-based public health policies and prevention practices to address a complex and growing set of public health challenges related to human sexuality. Building on what students learn in HPM 53010, “Community Health Needs Assessment”—one of seven core courses in the online MPH—this unique elective asks students to consider, “What are some of the most serious public health problems related to human sexuality, and what can be done to reduce them?” and it requires that they incorporate sociocultural, demographic, epidemiological and biological factors into their proposed solutions.
“I created the ‘Sex: A Wicked Public Health Problem’ course because there are a number of complex health problems that affect large numbers of people, both in the U.S. and throughout the world, that are related to human sexuality and sexual behaviors,” explains Asst. Dean Slenkovich. “The course focuses on such problems as infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, genital mutilation practices and female empowerment, among others, all of which are complex problems because they involve behaviors, cultural practices and societal norms, as well as policy decisions, resource allocation and program efficacy.”
A community health needs assessment is designed to help proactively improve the health of community populations, and understanding the assessment components and processes is a vital aspect of how students will solve for the discovery questions presented in "Sex: A Wicked Health Problem." Assessments demand buy-in from multiple community stakeholders, and the full process is one of data collection, analysis, documentation and solutions development, during which participants must explore the following:
- Leading health concerns for the selected community
- Current factors that influence public health within the community
- Available assets and resources that impact the above factors
- Known challenges and/or obstacles
THE BROADER APPLICABILITY OF A COMMUNITY HEALTH NEEDS ASSESSMENT
Of course, sexuality isn’t the only public health crisis to consider these days, and certainly not the only issue demanding the insight provided by a community health needs assessment.
When asked about today’s most alarming health threats, Asst. Dean Slenkovich points out that there are many. “The first is related to lifestyle and behavior choices. Even though people are more aware of the health risks associated with things like drug abuse, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating, there are still far too many people who choose to engage in these harmful behaviors.” He further explains that these behavior choices can have long-term or permanent effects, leading ultimately to substance addictions or serious chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Another set of health threats drawing attention from Asst. Dean Slenkovich are social factors like poverty and low education levels, which he says society has not been able to adequately address. He points out that those of low socioeconomic standing are more likely to develop serious health problems, and it is precisely this kind of complex, compound issue that can be identified with a community health needs assessment.
Asst. Dean Slenkovich concludes by pointing toward another major, underexamined public health threat: climate change. He notes that the public health community still does not fully understand the health risks associated with this phenomenon, “but we need to take it seriously and act quickly to address the problem.”
Fortunately, public health professionals, such as those trained in Kent State’s online MPH program, are able to devise and implement preventative strategies that can help address these threats and mitigate their associated health risks.
HOW THE ONLINE MPH PREPARES PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
The online MPH program is fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health, and it employs both focused curricula and hands-on experience to ensure that students are fully prepared for their roles as public health professionals. “The degree specializations offered online prepare students for rewarding careers in public health and health care organizations,” says Asst. Dean Slenkovich. “The program also provides maximum flexibility for students that allows them to fit their coursework into their busy schedules.”
Graduates of the online MPH program have secured jobs with notable organizations that include:
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Cleveland Clinic
- Akron Children’s Hospital
- Ohio Department of Health
- Medical Mutual Insurance Company
- Wright Patterson Medical Center
- Planned Parenthood
- University of Pennsylvania
- Ohio State University
One of the program’s key features is an on-ground practicum that gives students hand-on experience in a real health organization setting. According to Asst. Dean Slenkovich, students can either identify an organization that is willing to host their practicum and provide an onsite preceptor, or the Kent State practicum coordinator can assist them in finding an appropriate site. Once a site has been selected, the practicum coordinator or the student’s faculty advisor will help design a practicum project, which could include: evaluation of a health improvement project, analysis of health data for a specific condition (e.g., diabetes trends), development of a health education initiative, participation in a community health needs assessment, or the development of a personnel manual or performance evaluation system.
FIND YOUR FUTURE IN PUBLIC HEALTH
What wicked problems will you address in public health? And what tools will you employ along the way? Discover the value of a community health needs assessment in today’s public health landscape, and prepare for success in a Health Policy and Management or Social and Behavioral Sciences role. Learn more about the online Master of Public Health from Kent State University today.