NIU offers innovative, 21st century Ph.D. program in health sciences

NIU nursing studentsStudents looking for a doctoral program that meets 21st century needs for learning and health care will find that and more in NIU’s inaugural health sciences Ph.D. program.

“At NIU, we wanted to have a doctoral program that made sense based on what we know about research degrees today,” said Beverly Henry, associate dean for academic affairs. “So it took a lot of time, but we stayed true to our goal of creating a doctoral program that would prepare students for the future, and a program that they could be successful in completing.”

Offered through the College of Health and Human Sciences, the unique doctoral program has been strategically designed to provide students with an inter-professional orientation to research and practice. To accommodate full- and part-time students, courses are delivered in a hybrid format, using online components as well as periodic face-to-face meetings to meet the limited residency requirement.

“Rigor is important, but limiting barriers that aren’t necessary was also a big priority for us,” Henry said.

Barriers such as a traditional dissertation project have been replaced with the opportunity to have a dissertation project that is broken down into several parts that are each publishable in their own right. A residency requirement also presents a significant barrier to many qualified students, and NIU’s online course options address that.

Beverly Henry
Beverly Henry

The overwhelming response and ultimate selection of 15 qualified candidates for the first cohort confirmed the real need for a doctoral program like this.

“We really paid attention to the students’ backgrounds and to their career goals and research interests,” Henry said. “We are very fortunate to have a class like this that has a real breadth of experience.”

Dee Dee Downie, NIU doctoral student and public health adviser for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Madison, Wis., said NIU’s program has significant benefits for today’s students.

“I feel experimental research is essential in its own right; however, as much as I fully support the detailed technical work of these scientists, my pursuit of a Ph.D. in basic science was twice thwarted because I could not see the forest through the trees,” Downie said. “I was not convinced that my basic science research at the bench on one tiny protein would have any impact on the quality of life for cancer or malaria sufferers. Consequently, as health scientists, we are charged with a different, yet equally significant calling.”

To improve health outcomes, Downie said, health scientists need to take each of those paradigms learned in biology, psychology, statistics, microbiology and social behavior and bring them and their representatives together to the same research table.

“Only then can we truly begin to see each tree in the context of the forest and not be confined by our individual paradigms,” Downie said.

NIU Speech-Language-Hearing ClinicThe inaugural program builds on NIU’s faculty expertise in programs such as nursing, physical therapy, speech pathology, public health and nutrition and family studies.

The 45-credit hour, post-master’s curriculum includes:

  • 20 credit hours of core courses;
  • 12 credit hours of an individual program of study in a focused area;
  • a candidacy exam; and
  • 12 credit hours of dissertation research that flows from the individual program of study and reflects the inter-professional orientation of the program. The dissertation must make an original contribution to the body of research in the health sciences.

The NIU College of Health and Human Sciences and its 11 accredited programs promote health and well-being through scholarship that integrates teaching, research and service. Students learn, participate in research and work in the community at more than 400 external practicum sites.

For more information, call (815) 753-1891 or email chhs@niu.edu.

by Jane Donahue

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