The Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences is offered through the College of Health Sciences. The degree is designed to respond to the growing national shortage of doctorally-trained professionals in health-related fields and to address significant health research needs related to communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
As the name implies, this degree will encompass classes taught by faculty from the various disciplines within the College of Health Sciences. These disciplines are Health Promotion, Kinesiology, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Language Pathology. Other courses are also provided by the Departments of Psychology and Biology, the School of Nursing. In addition, courses are available at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health, El Paso Regional Campus.
The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Ph.D. program is a 60-credit hour program beyond the Masters degree, emphasizing the depth of learning that results from the interaction among and between multiple health professions. Students are expected to pursue research with more than one faculty mentor for breadth consistent with being awarded an interdisciplinary degree.
Several examples may help illustrate how individual student interests will be served by interdisciplinary program faculty. For example, an applicant with a background in physical therapy interested in osteoporosis would be well supervised by kinesiology and physical therapy faculty. An applicant with a background in nursing interested in preventive and educative interventions (e.g., nutrition interventions to prevent the progression from ‘pre-diabetes’ to Type II diabetes) in primary care settings could work with health promotion and nursing faculty. An applicant with a background in kinesiology interested in coping with pain after sports injuries could work with kinesiology, physical therapy, and health promotion faculty.
Local, Regional, State, National, and International Needs.
The Ph.D. program is designed to address a critical need for doctoral-prepared persons in the health sciences. Program graduates will be able to fulfill local, regional, and national shortages in academic positions. Unfilled faculty positions are cited frequently as the rate-limiting factor inhibiting the ability to train more health clinicians at the bachelor and master’s levels. There also are needs in community colleges, and undergraduate and master’s institutions, in additional to doctoral institutions, for doctoral-prepared faculty. The program adds research acumen and expands existing content knowledge individualized to each student’s interests so that graduates are prepared to fulfill faculty and other professional leadership positions in clinical, research, or other professional settings.
Response to the Need for Health Disparities Research
The doctoral program enhances health-related research at UTEP addressing present and future health problems of Texans. For example, the rising rates of obesity are resulting increased in type 2 diabetes (with an increasingly earlier age of onset, and with a disproportionate prevalence among Mexican Americans), heart disease, and other obesity-related conditions. Research is being pursued by faculty with expertise in nutrition, health promotion, kinesiology, physical therapy, nursing, and health psychology. This research includes identifying sources of disparities, reducing disparity-related poor health outcomes, and designing preventive and educative interventions to improve health.
Health disparities are a common theme of the research conducted by faculty and students in the doctoral program. While the general focus on diversity in health care and research capitalizes on the College of Health Science’s expertise in health disparities particularly relevant to the border region, the program’s graduates are well prepared to generalize their skills to other populations with different sets of cultural, ethnic, and environmental factors.
The focus on health disparities research in the proposed program positions UTEP to be a national leader in this area. UTEP is aligned well with recent initiatives at the National Institutes of Health, such as the creation of the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities within the University and associated funding initiatives, and will increase further its ability to successfully compete for extramural funding.
Job Market Needs
There are substantial state and national job market needs for doctoral-prepared health professionals that have reached crisis proportions in some fields (e.g., there were nearly one thousand faculty vacancies in nursing in the U.S. in 2002).