Health Sciences Major Responds to Nation’s Healthcare Needs

With more than 360 students enrolled this past spring, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Health Sciences major is the fastest program on campus and unique among Connecticut’s four state universities. To better respond to healthcare industry needs, the faculty recently revised the curriculum, focusing on two concentrations in public health and allied health to provide a broader preparation for professional/graduate schools or entry-level positions.

In 2017, 37 Eastern students graduated with a health sciences degree; in May 2019, that number had increased to 70. Career opportunities for these graduates abound, as jobs in the healthcare field are projected to increase 18 percent through 2026, generating 2.4 million new jobs nationally. In Connecticut, healthcare jobs will increase 10 percent in that time, outpacing the overall rate of economic growth.

Health Sciences Professor Anita Lee received a certificate of merit from the National Academic Advising Association for her work in academic advising.

“We are preparing students for careers in nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistants, pharmacy, public health and other allied health and public health fields,” said Anita Lee, one of the program’s faculty members, “with strong, transferable intellectual and practical skills.”

All students take core courses such as medical terminology, genetics and healthcare informatics, while the allied health concentration includes additional courses such as microbiology and anatomy & physiology, and public health students take courses that include epidemiology, nutrition and a field internship.

“Our goal is that our students have a solid knowledge base in health sciences and public health, and top-notch skills in scientific inquiry,” said Health Sciences Department Chair Yaw Nsiah. “We also want them to learn ethical and social responsibility in a diverse world, communicate health information accurately and continue their pre-professional development.”

Health Sciences Department Chair Yaw Nsiah of Ghana, West Africa, founded Withrow University College in 2012 to educate healthcare professionals in his home country.

A native of Ghana, West Africa, Nsiah founded Withrow University College in 2012 to educate healthcare professionals in his home country. For the past four summers, Health Sciences students and faculty have visited the college and other health facilities in Ghana for what has been a life-changing internship. They spend time in hospitals, orphanages, health clinics and other public health facilities, while also touring local communities and cultural sites.

Rachel DiNatalie ’18 is pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy at Sacred Heart University. She went on the internship trip to Ghana in 2016. “It was during this life-changing experience that I learned about another culture and experienced a healthcare system in a developing country. . . The opportunities I’ve had at Eastern have affirmed my decision to pursue a career in the healthcare industry and prepared me for graduate school to become an occupational therapist.”

Students from the Health Sciences Program take an annual trip to Ghana, volunteering in hospitals, orphanages, health clinics and other public facilities.

Other off-campus health sciences internships take place at Windham and Backus Hospitals, municipal health departments, Planned Parenthood and other healthcare organizations in Connecticut.

Looking beyond the University to enhance graduates’ success, Eastern has articulation agreements with nursing programs at the University of Connecticut, Fairfield University and Southern Connecticut State University, and is pursuing similar agreements in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other public and allied health programs.

Back on campus, students use state-of-the-art equipment to learn laboratory techniques as well as various therapies and other healthcare procedures. For instance, using an Anatomage virtual dissection table, students visualize and explore anatomy in 3-D without having to work with cadavers. “This technology allows students to discover the depth of the human body and apply that knowledge to relevant clinical studies,” said Professor Amy Bataille. “Our students exhibit better performance because of this wonderful equipment.”

Using an Anatomage virtual dissection table, students visualize and explore anatomy in 3-D without having to work with cadavers.

Bataille is also the faculty advisor for the Pre-Health Society, the Health Sciences student organization. Club activities include community awareness programs that range from skin cancer to diabetics.

In addition to Nsiah and Bataille, the Health Sciences program is blessed with other outstanding faculty members. Lee recently received a certificate of merit from the National Academic Advising Association for her work in academic advising. Mitchell Doucette’s study of firearm safety was recognized by the American Journal of Public Health as one of the “Best Papers of the Year” in 2018 and Paul Canavan led a team of student researchers in October 2018 that analyzed the biomechanics of baseball pitching, using Eastern athletes to analyze proper mechanics and how to avoid elbow and shoulder injuries. In addition to full-time faculty, part-time lecturers provide additional staffing for the Health Sciences Department. In addition, the interdisciplinary major draws on the expertise of professors in Biology, Psychology, Mathematics and Business Information Systems.

Rachel DiNatalie ’18 is pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy at Sacred Heart University.

Only five years old, the Health Sciences program is graduating students who are quickly making their mark in the world. Emmanuel Caicedo ’17, Alejandro Tobon ’17, Timothy Peterson ’18 and McKenzie Reimondo ’18 are studying for their Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at the University of Hartford. Kelsey Sullivan ’18 and Kaley Kennedy ’18 are attending Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions and Western New England University respectively. Augmenting her laboratory experiences at Eastern, Kennedy also worked in the special education department in the East Windsor public school system, as well as at Strong Foundations in Vernon to assist children diagnosed with autism, Asperger Syndrome, social communication disorder and other related disabilities.

Sullivan gained hands-on experience in Eastern’s Office of AccessAbility Services, as well as her local chiropractor. “My favorite thing about occupational therapy is not only the opportunity to help change someone’s life by helping them adapt to the world around them, but the opportunity for them to change my life as well,” said Sullivan. “This career, like the major at Eastern, is constantly adapting to best serve its clients, professionals, staff and students.”

Precious Baker ’17 is enrolled in the master’s degree in public health at the University of Connecticut, following a fellowship she received in 2016 from the Connecticut Children’s Injury Center as one of only six students to receive the honor. “I have a desire to continue working in the emergency medical environment,” said Baker, “and have a strong interest in environmental health and its relationship to health disparities.”

Precious Baker ’17 is enrolled in the master’s degree in public health at the University of Connecticut.

Another graduate, Marianna Serrano ’18, received a $7,500 scholarship from the Biomedical Science Careers Program at Harvard University to support her studies at Eastern. The scholarship, presented in April 2017, followed a summer 2016 internship at Harvard Medical School. “Being a Health Science major at Eastern has prepared me for seeing the health issues that are in our communities and has provided me with the tools I need to improve care for all that we serve,” said Serrano, who is currently working at Love146, a global anti-human trafficking agency.

Brendan Cullinane ’19 also went on the Ghana field trip and was active in other aspects of the program – as a peer mentor, as co-president of the Pre-Health Society and conducting undergraduate research. He recently was accepted into the prestigious Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Delaware. “This program has provided me many experiences that I don’t think I would have been able to get anywhere else,” said Cullinane. “My greatest learning experiences while studying health sciences are the research I conducted and the global field course to Ghana. They both provided me with hands-on experience and allowed me to develop skills that I otherwise would not have.”

With an outstanding group of dedicated faculty members, modern facilities, and an urgent need for health care professionals in our nation, Eastern’s Health Sciences major is poised to continue its track record of progress and achievement. Graduates of the program are confident they are well prepared to excel in a variety of high-demand healthcare professions.

Written by Dwight Bachman