The University of Utah Board of Trustees at its February 13 meeting approved RMCOEH’s proposals to launch graduate programs in Occupational Health Psychology and Mining Safety, a milestone vote for RMCOEH that will allow it to proceed with plans to enroll an inaugural cohort of trainees in each discipline this fall. 

Occupational Health Psychology and Mining Safety will be incorporated as emphases within existing degrees RMCOEH offers through the University of Utah School of Medicine. The Board of Trustees is the highest governing body within the university. One final round of approval is necessary for the emphases to be implemented, from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is the University of Utah’s accrediting body. 

The new programs will mark the latest development in a remarkable period of growth for RMCOEH, which was founded in 1977 and became the state’s first multi-university program partnership, between the University of Utah and Weber State University, in 2021. RMCOEH launched an Occupational Health Nursing graduate certificate program last year along with a bachelor’s degree in occupational and environmental health and safety, both at Weber State. 

Joseph Allen, PhD, who will direct the Occupational Health Psychology program, said the Board of Trustees’ support of the programs is “an amazing development,” both for RMCOEH and the workers the center serves. He said there is major demand across the region and nation for occupational health psychologists, who utilize the principles of psychology to protect the health, safety, and well-being of workers.

The need for occupational health psychologists has only grown in recent years as the world of work undergoes significant changes, which began before the COVID-19 pandemic but have accelerated since the onset of the health crisis. Occupational health psychologists are key to understanding these rapid changes and how to protect workers’ physical and mental health and well-being as the prevalence of work-related conditions such as burnout, stress and anxiety, and depression.   

“With the surge in employee burnout and mental health issues, along with tremendous changes in the workplace, graduates in occupational health psychology are in huge demand, and poised to improve working conditions for workers in every industry,” Allen said.  

Graduates of the Mining Safety program, meanwhile, will be part of the solution to a major problem facing the American mining industry. Currently, there are far too few college-educated workers entering the industry to replenish the workers who are reaching retirement age. In 2020, for instance, only 327 mining degrees were awarded in the U.S., continuing a rapid decline in graduations that has corresponded with the shuttering of many collegiate mining and mineral engineering programs in the last four decades.

The downswing is untimely. It is occurring as the mining industry needs to expand significantly to meet American and global demand for renewable energy sources, as the production of virtually all renewable energy technologies relies heavily on minerals and metals mining. 

RMCOEH sees an opportunity to help reverse the trend through recruiting students interested in occupational and environmental health and safety who may not otherwise find their way into the mining industry. 

“This program will get students into a career path that is very rewarding and desperately needed,” said Pratt Rogers, PhD, a professor in the U’s Department of Mining Engineering and one of the faculty leading the program alongside Program Director Charles Kocsis, PhD, and Patrick James, who brings decades of high-level experience in the industry.

Notably, the Occupational Health Psychology and Mining Safety programs will be among the first of their kind in the region. There is only one Occupational Health Psychology program in Utah or the surrounding states, at Colorado State University, despite the reality that issues relating to occupational health psychology affect nearly every worker. Meanwhile, no Mining Safety program like the one RMCOEH is launching exists in the Western U.S. to serve the 3,181 mining operations and 62,599 miners in the West.

“We are grateful to the Board of Trustees for supporting our vision for these new programs,” said RMCOEH Director Kurt Hegmann, MD. “We believe the training we will offer in these disciplines will make an enormous positive impact on workers, which is at the core of our mission.”  

Receive the Latest News