Coronavirus boosts interest in public health education at USF

The pandemic may have slowed down campus life, but not applications for enrollment at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health.

"I’m interested in studying pandemics," offered Nick Cropper. "What a time to be studying pandemics."

Cropper, a 24-year-old from Sarasota, is working on a graduate degree in public health. COVID-19 has pushed the field squarely into the spotlight.

"It’s a field that had been silent for a long time," said public health graduate student Rolando Trejos. "Now it’s become prime-time news."

Applications are up 91% for the master's program in public health at USF and 168% for public health administration. There’s also an increase of more than 3,700 in the number of students registering for undergraduate classes in public health. University officials say the trend is nationwide.

"I’m watching the applications skyrocket," said Dr. Jay Wolfson of the USF College of Public Health.

He says he hasn’t seen such interest in the field since HIV in the 1980s and early '90s, but he says there are more public health jobs on the horizon.

"The structure, the financing, the delivery, the organization, the politics, the policy and the legislation surrounding healthcare," continued Wolfson. "It’s a big part of the nation’s economy."

One administrator likens it to the CSI TV crime dramas that led thousands to forensic science. In this case, the pandemic is inspiring students to pursue careers in public health.

"We can help people be healthier," said Trejos.

"Public health is perfect for that," added Cropper.