Faculty Interview: Paul Devereux

Associate Professor

1. Which parts of the UNR-MPH curriculum are especially relevant for students interested in community health education and its influences on health and well-being?

For students interested in community health education, CHS 720 Health Program Planning and CHS 721 Health Program Evaluation are the most relevant courses because they teach you how to launch community interventions and then they give you the skills to identify whether your intervention is effective or not (are you making a difference on the communities health).

An example of a community health intervention could be something to help reduce childhood obesity or increase cancer screenings. It might be an intervention to try and educate people on the preventive services for cancer screening or a nutrition or physical activity to help children with their risk for obesity.

The ways public health practitioners evaluate the success of their intervention, in the case of cancer screenings, is based on whether or not people went through and obtained a screening/colonoscopy after receiving the intervention. Also, another way to evaluate success in this intervention is to determine how prepared the patient was for the colonoscopy. Better educated patients come in better prepared for a colonoscopy test.

The biggest surprise for the colon cancer screening intervention I conducted was how it was more effective for males. Traditionally, males have lower rates of being prepared for a colonoscopy.

2. What types of careers are available for MPH graduates interested in a specialty of community health?

Many opportunities are available to students interested in community health. A number of students go on to become program evaluators. Program evaluators conduct analysis for whether programs are effectively running or not, in addition to, studies to see whether programs have met their goals. Other students graduate and go on to run programs that address a community health concern and design the interventions. Running and conducting community health programs for students that are interested in working in the community.

Some students go on to have their own consulting firms or work for various societies, associations or non-profits – i.e. the American Cancer Society of American Heart Association– state or local health offices and in health care settings.

3. In what ways can community health improve public health? Are there any new trends in these areas that are emerging, or areas you believe deserve more research and exploration?

One emerging area that deserves more research and exploration is the globalization of health threats and health issues (the burden of disease). It’s important that students think globally and are concerned with issues beyond the U.S. border and how they ultimately affect everyone’s health. Students should be prepared to be advocates for public health and speak to the importance of their work as a public health practitioner and why it should be funded.

Another piece of advice I like to give students is to get involved in professional organizations like the American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA champions the health of people and communities and it is an important way for students and public health practitioners to stay current and up to date on industry policies and trends that are affecting the profession. There are various affiliate organizations by state, for example the Nevada Public Health Association, where professionals can connect with individuals in their area. In the University of Nevada, Reno Master of Public Health program there are a number of opportunities for MPH students through their internships or field studies to do work across the planet (Africa, Russia and Europe depending on where their interests are).

4. What traits or skills are important for an individual interested in this area of expertise?

Having some public health experience is important when entering a master’s in public health program so faculty can see that students understand how to work with communities and different agencies and stakeholders on issues.

It’s also important for someone entering in the field of public health to have a commitment to making a difference. In public health it isn’t just about education, but also taking the education information and doing something with it. We want people who are motivated and find a concern for health in their communities and then want the tools and skills to address those concerns.

5. What advice/guidance would you have for an MPH graduate interested in community health?

There will be hits and misses and ups and downs during a career in public health. Public health practitioners need to take a long-term outlook as it’s challenging work and there are setbacks, but if students continue to remain motivated and committed then the payoffs are very rewarding.

As an educator, seeing what the University of Nevada, Reno MPH students go on to do as alumni – being so active and engaged in their communities – has been really rewarding for me.