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MCLA Adds Two New Health-Related Majors
11:52AM / Friday, June 30, 2017
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MCLA's Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation provides space for the kind of lab research and study these majors demand.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is offering two new major programs in the Department of Biology, a bachelors of science degrees in health sciences and in community health education. These programs will launch in the fall of 2017.

Also starting this fall, the Biology Department will offer two new concentrations — pre-medical professions and pre-veterinary. In addition, new biology faculty members will join the campus in September.

MCLA President James F. Birge said he knew the college had to fast-track its already developing plan for new health care-oriented biology majors after hearing from the Berkshire health-care community about the need for health-care educators and specialized health workers, 

"MCLA is always looking to respond to the needs of our community and the national workforce, so I'm thrilled to announce these new majors and programs," Birge said. "These programs build on our foothold in providing high-quality science programs and meeting the demand for educated workers in the STEM fields while continuing to utilize the state-of-the-art Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation, which provides space for the kind of lab research and study these majors demand."

The college is the first public institution in the commonwealth to offer this type of health sciences major, which will prepare students to pursue advanced study or immediate employment in a variety of health professions. 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.

In addition, the college added the community health education major, which addresses a growing demand for health care educators, both locally and nationwide.

"They are going to provide some exceptional new opportunities for our students," said 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 and respond to the needs for professionals in the field."

Those who wish to enroll in the Health Sciences Program to become physical therapists will have the opportunity to observe professionals at local physical therapy offices and to take relevant courses in its 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 Sage's 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 degree 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 assistant 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, as an emergency medical technician or as a medical scribe at Berkshire Medical Center.

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 community health education addresses a growing need for health educators. 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.

According to Nicole Porther, a specialist in public and community health, and the new coordinator of the Community Health Education Program, the program will train students to be leaders in designing and implementing evidence-based approaches to address contemporary health care challenges, disparities and epidemics.

"Students graduating from the program will train and prepare health education advocates in the promotion of health and disease prevention while influencing and shaping policies that would improve quality of life and advance health equity," Porther said.

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.

The pre-veterinary concentration will be the only one in the State Universities of Massachusetts. The pre-medical professions concentration will serve students who are interested in medical, dental and pharmaceutical careers. Goodwin said MCLA has a high success rate with placing students taking pre-veterinary classes in veterinary programs. Coursework for the new pre-veterinary biology concentration includes classes in animal behavior and animal physiology. In addition, students can complete animal care internships at MCLA, the Berkshire Museum and local animal hospitals.

"The pre-veterinary concentration highlights our strengths in terms of the internships we can offer and the animal-focused courses that are available at MCLA," Goodwin said.

The pre-medical professions concentration will serve students who are interested in medical, dental and pharmaceutical careers. Among other courses, students in this concentration will take microbiology, human anatomy and physiology I and II, and cell and molecular biology — all of which will be taught as upper-level courses.

MCLA offers classes that many other schools don't, which provide the foundational knowledge necessary to score well on the MCAT and GRE exams, and to succeed in a variety of professional programs, Goodwin said.

"A lot of four-year institutions don't teach human anatomy and physiology as a two-semester sequence and, if they do teach it, they teach it as a lower-level course," she said. "We teach these courses as upper-level courses, going into a lot of depth. Our students do a great deal of work specific to body functions and diseases, and will receive hands-on skill training.

"These strong courses, which provide an intensive background in subjects such as anatomy and physiology, are going to be great assets to the students in preparation for their medical, dental or pharmacy programs."

Students also will have opportunities to shadow physicians and dentists at local hospitals and medical/dental offices, work as medical scribes in emergency rooms, and work as pharmacy technicians at local pharmacies.

MCLA will continue to offer the general biology major and the biology major with a biotechnology concentration, which is relatively new to the college. In addition, MCLA will welcome three new faculty to its Biology Department this fall to teach in the three majors and the newly restructured biology degree.

They include George Hamaoui, whose research focuses on microbial communities in both soil and animals; Matthew Kostek, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and an American Colleges of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist whose research is focused on the adoption and maintenance of physical activity, and on the physical and mental efforts of short-term and long-term exercise; and Porther, a specialist in public and community health who will be the coordinator of the Community Health Education Program, whose research is focused 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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