“Our students are involved in everything that we do. Everything. And that’s been a priority for us since the beginning.”
For Cristina Oancea, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Master of Public Health (MPH) program, the insistence that students be involved in almost every aspect of public health work — from contact tracing to epidemiology to policymaking to marketing — is what makes it such a special place to be.
“The placements that our students get, oftentimes even before graduation, are incredible and the result of what those organizations see our students doing here. They get offers immediately,” she says with a smile. “A lot of times we’ll hire students as graduate assistants, and then, before you know it, someone like the North Dakota Department of Health wants them. That story has happened so many times.”
Just ask Katarina Domitrovich.
“I started out as a contact tracer for UND’s team with the state in the first days of COVID-19,” says the Health Equity Coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health. “The connections I made in that role, the UND MPH program, and my experience working for UND in a public health position allowed me to step into my current role with confidence and with tools in my toolkit to succeed and serve North Dakotans well.”
The MPH program at UND celebrates its 10th anniversary this academic year. In those 10 years, the program has graduated more than 100 health professionals, almost all who have gone on to get doctoral degrees, publish in major journals, manage COVID-19 outbreaks at the state level and address things like substance use disorders, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections and suicide in their local communities — among many other public health priorities.
In the beginning
“Over the years, we’ve seen tremendous student growth,” adds Ashley Bayne, MPH program manager. “For several years we’ve had a 100% employment rate for our alumni, which is fantastic. The need for public health in general has grown over the years and I think especially now [post-COVID], people know that.”
But it wasn’t always so. While not necessarily under attack, public health as a profession was in a very different place ten years ago. Much of the developed world at least felt that most communicable diseases had been contained and that communities understood the value of things like sanitation, sober driving, and seat-belt use. Likewise, tobacco use was on the decline.
Then came the opioid epidemic, the Flint, Mich., water crisis, renewed debates over gun violence in the United States, and increases in suicide among many age cohorts—all of which contributed to a decline in life expectancy in America by 2019.

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