Rethinking health

Although Canada's health-care system ranks among the world's best, we face an aging population, increasing rates of chronic disease and a dire shortage of health professionals. It's a host of problems that aren't going away – by 2011, a mere three years away, the demand for nurses and public health practitioners in Alberta and across Canada is expected to peak.

One thing is certain: the need for highly educated, well-trained health professionals has never been greater.

This fall, the U of L's School of Health Sciences launched a new Public Health degree program. As the only baccalaureate degree of its kind in Alberta, it gives students a new perspective on health.

"There is an evolution in our thinking about health. We're now looking at broader social determinants of health like income, working conditions, employment, transportation, education and housing," says U of L public health degree coordinator Sharon Yanicki.

The program will prepare graduates to be life-long learners capable of integrating new approaches with proven methods and will provide them with skills to work in a variety of roles in health promotion, policy and information analysis, as well as community development and project management.

In addition, the University is increasing resources for those pursuing greater levels of education in health sciences. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Ed McNally, every nursing student in the graduate program received a scholarship of $4,000 this September.

For U of L student Eva McLennan (BN '07), a busy mother of two as well as part-time employee at both Chinook Health and Lethbridge College, the scholarship confirms her goals.

"Of course receiving monetary assistance is beneficial and greatly appreciated – there are very real costs associated with education. But it's more than that. Receiving a scholarship also recognizes that you have something to contribute that makes you worthy of investment," says McLennan.

McLennan believes that having her master's degree will open doors on many levels.

"Today health consumers are better educated and expect more of the health system," she explains. "My graduate degree will give me greater understanding of the ways in which research influences current nursing practices."

Fellow student Karen Leskosek (BN '02) agrees. "The health-care system is constantly changing. Having my master's will enable me to approach client care, nursing education and research with innovation and determination," says Leskosek.

Looking ahead, the U of L takes confidence in knowing that a health plan centred on educating innovative leaders is firmly in place – it's one of the ways the University is helping ensure that the future of our health will remain in good hands.