New Degree Program Focuses on Healthy Lifestyles

New Degree Program Focuses on Healthy Lifestyles

Laura Heinemann, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical anthropology, is teaching Introduction to Anthropology: Social and Cultural Determinants of Health this spring as part of the new interdisciplinary Healthy Lifestyle Management (HLM) degree program. The program, offered online through the College of Professional Studies and on campus through the College of Arts and Sciences, is intended to give students a broader perspective of how health is created, along with the skills to work one-on-one with others to improve their health. Creighton University Magazine talked to Heinemann and the program director, Tom Lenz, Pharm.D., about the innovative HLM program.

What is the importance of teaching healthy lifestyle management?

Heinemann: Teaching healthy lifestyle management helps to foster in students the knowledge base and skill set that enable them to approach health matters beyond the level of health care alone. It attends closely to those “upstream” conditions that can lead to illness in the first place. Teaching lifestyle management tunes students in to seeking out new ways to ensure that people’s lifestyles set them up for well-being, to structure better methods of support and to remove barriers people may encounter that could derail efforts to living healthier lives.

What will students gain from the program?

Lenz: Students will take away the knowledge, skills and values necessary to work within a team of health care professionals to help people thrive in the environments in which they live, work and spend their time. Along with the explicit HLM curriculum, there is a personal development component. We strongly believe that in order to help other individuals achieve a high level of well-being, the health and wellness professional must also have a high level of well-being, which includes a strong sense of self-awareness. This overlay of personal development will include reflection and team-based activities.

What career goals should students have if they’re thinking about applying to the program?

Lenz: This program was designed to be broad in scope. Students interested in the health and wellness fields will find it applicable to many situations. They can expect to find career opportunities in community wellness, employee wellness, and health and wellness coaching. These employment opportunities are expected to be in greater demand compared to average job-growth projections over the next couple of decades. Also, students interested in matriculating to a health sciences program can expect to gain a broad perspective of the many factors that influence health prior to learning the specific skills of their chosen health care profession. It is our hope that we can help improve the health of society through this type of program because it is specifically designed to address the root causes of disease.

Are there societal and cultural changes in health awareness that you’ve witnessed?

Heinemann: There is growing recognition that genes and biology constitute only part of the picture. The conditions in which people live and work, and the social forces that carve out these conditions, can comprehensively shape well-being. This recognition is reflected now, for example, in the fact that the newly revised MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) includes a substantial section that tests for an understanding of the social determinants of health and well-being.

How does the program tie into Creighton’s mission?

Lenz: This program is interdisciplinary with an emphasis in collaborative care so the student is aware of the “whole person” health needs of the individuals they are helping. We believe this is in line with St. Ignatius’ teachings of cura personalis and Creighton’s mission of caring for the whole person.

What changes in health awareness do you want to see in society?

Heinemann: I hope to see greater attention to those things that are necessary for all people to have a better chance at enjoying good health in the first place.