Lauren Patton ’16 knew she always wanted to work in health care, so she was really excited when her advisor told her about a new bachelor’s degree in population health management (PHM) at Missouri Western. Patton knew that that was what she wanted to do.

This past December, Patton, from Kansas City, Missouri, was the first to graduate from Missouri Western with the new degree, which is also one of the first undergraduate degrees offered in that field in the country.

“I want to help people live healthier lives, and I have a passion for public health,” she said. “This degree was a perfect fit for me.”

Lauren Patten '16

Lauren Patton ’16

In 2014, Mosaic Life Care (formerly Heartland Health) gave a gift of $1.5 million to Missouri Western to endow a professorship for a Population Health Management degree. The program was approved by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education in 2015, and Fiona Sansone ’94 was hired as the endowed director for population health this past summer.

Population health is an approach to health care that steps beyond the individual-level focus of traditional clinical and preventive medicine by addressing a broad range of factors that impact health on a population level. It’s about preventing illnesses rather than just treating them, Sansone says, and focusing on controlling health care costs and patient satisfaction.

“The degree is very forward-thinking,” Sansone said. “Graduates will help ensure that our healthcare system of care is proactive rather than reactive.”

She has more than 20 years of health care experience in northwest Missouri, and most recently had been the director of patient-centered home care management at Mosaic.

There are four concentrations for the University’s PHM degree – business, health information management, computer information systems and human health. The options prepare graduates for a wide variety of career fields in health care, including population health analyst, health coach, quality improvement specialist, care coordinator and more. Sansone noted that the program offers courses from several academic departments across campus. Unlike the nursing program, the PHM degree is non-clinical, but a senior-year internship is required.

Along with Mosaic, Missouri Western worked closely with Cerner Corporation in Kansas City to develop the curriculum.

Sansone, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Missouri Western and a Master of Social Work from the University of Missouri, will teach courses as well as direct the program.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime,” she says of the position. “I have a true passion for health and prevention, and holistic care.”

Patton met most of the core requirements for the degree by the end of the spring 2016 semester, and taking a full load of courses this past summer and fall put her on track to graduate last month. She had also completed an internship at the Kansas City Health Department and completed another internship this past fall, as well.

Patton plans to attend graduate school in the public health field.

“I’m really excited to be the first to receive the degree, but I am more excited that I can help people live healthier lives,” Patton said. “Missouri Western has given me the platform to be the best that I can be, and I really appreciate that.”