COPH leads the nation with CPH faculty and staff

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“The USF College of Public Health (COPH) has always considered our top priority to be the development of our students for careers in the public health profession. The Certified in Public Health (CPH) exam was designed as a way to help professionalize the field of public health so it is no surprise that we were one of the first schools of public health in the nation to require our students to pass the CPH exam as a requirement for graduation,” said Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the COPH.

In 2015, the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) extended eligibility to take the CPH exam to faculty and staff at accredited schools of public health.

This past year marked the first time faculty and staff  have had the option to take the exam.


(From left) Dr. Jill Roberts, Dr. William Sappenfield, Dr. Kay Perrin, Allison Oberne, Dr. Jennifer Marshall, and Dr. Tom Bernard. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Kate Brundage, certification program manager at NBPHE, confirmed that USF COPH has the most faculty and staff who have successfully earned the CPH credential out of all organizations that have reported their numbers.

The CPH is the only credential of its kind for public health. It measures professionals’ knowledge of all aspects of public health and their commitment to the field through continuing education.

It was developed to access a person’s knowledge of public health competencies regardless of academic concentration, according to the NBPHE.

The four hour exam consists of 200 multiple choice or single-best answer questions.

“Having faculty and staff take and pass the test is important to our students we are recruiting. If we, as a College, are pushing students to take and pass the test before graduation to demonstrate they are public health professionals, we need to be willing to demonstrate ourselves as examples,” said Dr. William Sappenfield, professor and chair of the Department of Community and Family Health (CFH).

Many faculty members were excited to take the exam, according to Dr. Jill Roberts, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH).

“I have graduated from USF COPH twice! I graduated once in 1998 with an MPH and again in 2006 with a doctorate. I am a proud public health graduate and was happy to have an opportunity to prove it,” Roberts said.

Using the same advice she gives to her students about studying, Roberts said she wrote down everything and took detailed notes along with watching lectures posted by the NBPHE. She also read a short book on epidemiology and biostatics for a refresher.

Sappenfield did not have time to study for the exam, but said practicing public health every day at the College, as a professor and department chair of CFH, prepared him for the exam.


(From left) Dr. Zachary Pruitt, Dr. Arturo Rebollon, and Elizabeth Dunn. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Dr. Kay Perrin, associate professor in CFH and assistant dean of undergraduate studies, and Dr. Karen Liller, professor in CFH, also implemented common study practices in preparation for the exam.

Perrin said she made notecards to practice and review less familiar topics and definitions.

This technique gave her the opportunity to review topics that she had not thought about for about 25 years. Many faculty members took advantage of study materials that they had online.

Liller said she took the Association of School and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) practice tests and reviewed other study guides that she had found, but studied and read textbooks as well.

“I learned my strengths and weaknesses in the field of public health. I did really well in the epidemiology portion and that was a confidence builder as I am incorporating a lot of epidemiology into my new foodborne diseases course,” Roberts said.

One thing that Liller gained from taking the exam was the reinforced knowledge that students do need to prepare as the exam is not an easy one. She also enjoyed learning how the exam was structured and said it was fun “being a student for the day.”

After working and practicing public health for more than 30 years, Sappenfield was not used to sitting and taking a four-hour multiple choice test. Reflecting back on the exam day, Sappenfield said that while he didn’t have any problems with the test, he did have to get up a couple times and walk around.

While eligible faculty and staff are not required to take the exam, all agreed that it should be highly encouraged and recommended.

“The test not only assesses overall knowledge but also certainly allows the faculty member to be a true role model for his or her student,” Liller said.

Roberts highly recommends other faculty and staff to become certified in public health.


(From left) Ellen Kent, Ryan Tokarz, Dr. Karen Liller, and Deidre Orriola. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

“It is a great feeling to know that you are recognized for your hard work in the public health discipline. It is also an excellent way to demonstrate your commitment to the public health community,” she said.

Perrin is reflecting on the possibility of making the CPH certification a preferred qualification for new instructors and faculty.  “The more of us who become certified the stronger the field becomes,” Liller said.

“Having as many of our faculty and staff Certified in Public Health as possible is consistent with this vision and clearly demonstrates our commitment to professional education in the field of public health,” Peterson said.

Faculty and staff who are also CPH certified and not pictured or mentioned above include Anna Armstrong, Brian Bernard, Sarah Bonnema, Emily Bronson, Somer Burke, Jaime Corvin, Donna Haiduven, Humberto Lopez Castillo, Matawal Makut, Kathleen O’Rourke, Mahmooda Pasha, John Peek, Donna Petersen, Saba Rahman, Aurora Sanchez-Anguino, Adewale Troutman and Ronee Wilson.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health