Hart Canadian Exchange Visit Uncovers Noteworthy Program Differences

Associate Professor Charles Hart, PhD, spent May 10-30 in Canada studying the environmental health sciences undergraduate educational system there to compare, contrast and seek best practices for application at Kent State.  He traveled to the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby, Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta, and First Nations University in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Hart’s visit resulted from his receiving the 2013 Exchange Award from the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).  Honorees observe, learn and share with people of other countries and cultures and bring home that unique experience to their peers in the workplace.
“While the coursework is very similar to our program at Kent State and what’s typically offered across the United States, the Canadian system and type of students are, for the most part, pretty different,” says Hart.  “Here, we have a four-year undergraduate program for those right out of high school.  In the many accredited Canadian programs, environmental health is an after-degree program, consisting of two years of intensive study,” he says.  “Students usually have earned a science baccalaureate degree before entering the environmental health program, so they’re a lot older, and their level of readiness is much higher,” Hart observes.  “They have life and often work experience, and their level of engagement is very strong right off the bat.  The students also know one another quite well, as they go through the program together as a cohort,” he says.
Hart visited three of the five universities with environmental health sciences programs accredited by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI).  The other two are located on Cape Breton Island and in Toronto.  CIPHI accredits their environmental health academic programs and certifies all environmental health inspectors, who are required to have a degree specifically from one of the five accredited programs.  “In the United States, there are separate state boards that certify registered sanitarians, and they have no control of academic programs,” observes Hart, who adds that the state boards are also separate from NEHA.  “So in Canada, there are five university environmental health programs that train strictly public health inspectors, while here we train a much broader range of environmental health professionals who work in industry, business and education, as well as government.  The focus in Canada is more directly on public health inspectors, which is why CIPHI has more control,” he states.  “In Canada, if you don’t want to be an inspector, there are undergraduate and graduate science and other programs that prepare you for an environmental health career,” he adds.
Instruction is rigorous, says Hart, who explains that, with a grade of C or below, you fail the course.  “The academics are directly related to preparing to pass the CIPHI exam.  And it isn’t just a paper exam like in the United States.  You appear before a board to answer questions and must provide samples of reports and other work that you’ve done.  It’s to the student’s benefit to learn as much as he or she can and to do well in the program,” Hart observes.
Hart’s last stop, First Nations University of Canada, in Saskatchewan, offers a four-year undergraduate environmental health sciences degree to recent high school graduates.  The school is Canada's only First-Nations-controlled university or college, and their target students are a specialized group, indigenous people of Canada, some living on reserves, although the university is open to all.  “Online education is key, as some First Nations reserves are quite a distance from a campus,” he says.  “Each reserve has separate public health policies and is overseen by the federal government, rather than the provinces,” Hart explains.  “There are 44 reserves in Alberta alone, each with unique environmental health issues and challenges,” he adds.  When Hart arrived at First Nations, whose building incorporates a unique glass Veterans Memorial Tipi, he was welcomed with a smudging ceremony, which included a blessing for his visit by tribal elders.
The exchange was sponsored by NEHA and Underwriters Laboratories, and Hart presented a talk on his experiences at the NEHA Annual Conference at Las Vegas on July 8.  Hart has won the award an unprecedented two times.  He visited the United Kingdom in 1994 to study university environmental health and science departments and indoor air quality.