Undergraduates fascinated by global population and public health issues are now eligible for a program allowing them to earn a master’s degree in public health within five years.

Approximately 10 students will be admitted to the joint degree program each year, said Anne Pistell, the School of Public Health’s associate dean for student affairs. The joint program — two years in the making — comes on the heels of rising undergraduate interest in public health, said Brian Leaderer, interim dean of the Public Health School and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. About 40 undergraduates currently take graduate-level courses at the Public Health School, he said.

“There’s a move afoot to introduce public and global health at the undergraduate level all over,” Leaderer said. “This moves us to the head of the pack.”

In recent years, undergraduates have shown a rising interest in taking courses at the School of Public Health and the possibility of an undergraduate public health major, Pistell said. The 2003 Committee on Yale College Education report also noted a broad interest in health studies among undergraduates, which Pistell said prompted the beginning of discussions regarding undergraduate options for public health study.

Discussions with the Yale College Dean’s Office and some directors of undergraduate studies yielded the concept of the five-year dual-degree track, and the program was approved unanimously in a vote during a May faculty meeting last spring, Pistell said.

Tom Cannell ’06, former editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal of Public Health, said he was involved in talks with Public Health School staff on how to address rising student interest in the subject. Cannell said a health studies major was also discussed as a possibility, but Leaderer said there are no plans to offer a health major or even undergraduate-level courses at the public health school in the near future.

The original plan for the program only allowed students to apply to the new major in their junior year, so that incoming students would have more experience in public health coursework, Pistell said. But she said Public Health School officials later decided the junior year was too late. Instead, interested students must apply to the program during spring term of their sophomore year.

University rules mandate that no more than four graduate courses from professional schools count toward the bachelor’s degree. The five-year program will reconcile this rule with the requirements of both degrees, Pistell said, by including two undergraduate statistics courses — one introductory and one advanced — to replace the standard Master’s of Public Health statistics sequence.

William Segraves, associate dean of Yale College for science education, said the program’s goals are consistent with those of the College as a liberal arts institution.

“I think the most important thing to remember is there’s no change in the structure of the undergraduate major,” he said. “The totality of [the students’] Yale College experience won’t look any different. It’s not different from how we approach students who are planning on going on to other careers.”

Though there are several combined bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered at the University, the only ones that span five years and offer a master’s degree in one of Yale’s professional schools are in the Faculty of Engineering and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Applications for enrollment next fall in the Select Program in Public Health will be accepted online from Feb. 1 to March 20. Information sessions hosted by Undergraduate Career Services will be held next Monday and Tuesday to present details of the program’s prerequisites, requirements and application process.