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Public Health in South Dakota: Opportunity Abounds for Public Health Grads and Seasoned Professionals

Public health professionals have many roles: They carry out disease surveillance. They create effective health programming. They investigate environmental health issues. They provide leadership on cross-cutting initiatives involving everything from community planning to early childhood education. Some career paths require very specific types of education and training, for example, expertise in biostatistics. Thankfully, public health education and training opportunities abound. In an internet age, a person doesn't have to leave South Dakota to learn how to serve South Dakota!

Select a South Dakota Public Health Topic:

Public Health Infrastructure and Strategic Plan

The South Dakota Department of Health is responsible for protecting and promoting South Dakotan health. The following are among the offices:

  • Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
  • Office of Child and Family Services
  • Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

South Dakota is currently guided by its 2015 to 2020 Strategic Plan. The plan sets five overarching goals:

  • Improving healthcare access, quality, and usage
  • Supporting life-long health
  • Preparing for and responding to threats
  • Strengthening the Department of Health infrastructure and increasing effectiveness
  • Building public health partnerships

Each goal is supported by a number of indicators. The latter can be quite specific. For example, South Dakota seeks to increase the percentage of mothers who breast feed for six months from 45.6% to 60.6% over a six year period. This particular indicator is included in the life-long health category. Smoking is also addressed under life-long health. South Dakota seeks to bring the percentage of adults who are current smokers down from 18.6% to 14.5% during that same time period.

The state’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program encompasses a range of goals: preventing smoking, assisting smokers in quitting, and protecting other citizens from second-hand smoke (http://doh.sd.gov/prevention/tobacco/). The South Dakota Youth Tobacco Survey is conducted on odd numbered years. It places tobacco usage within an environmental context. The 2015 survey was administered to more than 3,000 middle schoolers.

Becoming a Public Health Professional

Although a public health career typically requires a high level of education, a person can begin before attaining a degree. Pre-degree experience can further career goals in direct and indirect ways. A Master of Public Health student typically submits resume and references as well as a statement of career goals.

One option is participation in national service projects like Americorps and VISTA. Among the recently advertised VISTA opportunities is assisting with the Community Food Sovereignty Initiative. The CFSI seeks to turn around a situation that began with colonization: changed dietary patterns among the Lakota and resulting health issues such as obesity and diabetes. CFSI projects include a community garden and farmers market, education -- and giving new attention to old traditions. A VISTA writer could involve himself or herself in many ways, from writing grant proposals to creating tools and media.

Involvement in Future Health Professionals -- HOSA – can provide an even earlier opportunity to learn about health disciplines. South Dakota currently boasts 29 chapters. High school students participate in activities such as leadership conferences and competitions. One competition focuses specifically on addressing a public health topic. The 2016 to 2017 topic is one that a lot of health departments have been exploring: how best to respond to Zika and to future threats. Epidemiology is the topic of a 50-question exam. There are a number of other competitions that touch on public health. Students can work in teams to create health education or community awareness projects. Students can work with partners to create health career displays.

Public health degree programs may be pursued at the bachelor's or graduate level. A nationwide search will reveal ‘bachelors to master’s’ programs as well as traditional four year bachelor’s programs with emphases such as health services administration or health promotion. A student can instead pick an undergraduate major that will support future graduate study. A student who interested in the more scientific aspects of public health might study environmental sciences, biological sciences, or statistics. A student who is interested in public health administration might opt for a degree in a related administrative discipline. Master of Public Health (MPH) programs accept students with a wide variety of undergraduate majors.

South Dakota has a relative new online MPH program, offered in partnership between two state universities. Many public health programs are offered online. A student will need to spend some time engaged in real-world activities, but won't necessarily need to spend time in a traditional classroom.

The following is a sample of public health concentrations available from schools around the nation:

  • Healthcare administration
  • Preventative science
  • Community health education
  • Epidemiology
  • Environmental and occupational health
  • Public health practice

Public health training is ongoing. The Region VIII Rocky Mountain Public Health Training Center is one of the many resources. Community Health Care Association of the Dakotas is among the RM-PHTC local performance sites.

Public Health Careers

There are many potential employers, including governmental agencies, healthcare systems, or nonprofits. The following are among the recently advertised positions:

  • Primary Care Health Systems Manager for the American Cancer Society
  • Research Associate for the Pediatric Health Disparities study
  • Health Education Extension Field Specialist I for the Healthy Food, Families, & Communities initiative at South Dakota State University
  • Administrator for the South Dakota Office of Rural Health & Emergency Medical Services
  • Development Coordinator for Sanford World Clinic

Additional Resources

The South Dakota Public Health Association is a state professional organization (http://sdpublichealth.org).