UM Awarded for Online Public Health Education

A picture of Monica Difort
A Kalispell native, Monica now resides in Utica, New York, where she is pursuing an online master’s degree in public health from the University of Montana.

MISSOULA – Monica Difort grew up in Kalispel and graduated from Glacier High School. She attended college in upstate New York as a medical major, but she recognized that “healthcare is so much more than just the interaction between patients and healthcare providers.”

Inspired by courses exploring the intersection of science, technology and society, she found herself searching the East Coast for public health graduate programs. Imagine her surprise when she googled that one of the best programs in her home state is at the University of Montana.

It was a program she could complete online evenings and weekends without disrupting her current job in Utica, New York. When she contacted UM, the program’s director, Tony Ward, called her personally.

“He explained everything to me and it just felt good,” Difort said. “Everyone was super nice, so I went for it.”

She was enrolled in a program recently recognized by as the #16 Best Online Public Health Masters Degree in the United States. A public health degree prepares graduates to work in a variety of settings, including public health departments, hospitals and clinics, nonprofit organizations, workplace wellness programs, human resources offices, and community-based health agencies. surveyed more than 7,700 accredited schools to compile its list. UM was one of only 6% of regionally accredited colleges and universities to rank. The online health programs on the list have been recognized for quality, affordability, and commitment to student success.

“Recent events surrounding the pandemic have really highlighted the importance of public health,” said Ward, professor and chair of UM’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences. “We are seeing a significant increase in the number of public health and healthcare job openings. I know Monica is entering a growing career field.”

Earning an online degree is a new experience for Difort. She usually starts her day with a full-time job from 8:30am to 5:00pm at her local health department. In the evenings she works on her readings and logs into online discussions with other students. She also invests time at the weekend in order to complete her online studies.

“With online learning, you have to plan things out and make sure you log in every day,” Difort said. “You have to be disciplined, but the great thing is that you can do it on your own time. It can work even if you work or have a family.”

She was surprised by the different backgrounds of her fellow students.

“People come from all over the place,” Difort said. “There are people from Alaska, Colorado, Virginia, and Alabama…some of them are pretty rural. And there are so many different backgrounds. Some people already have MDs and are taking the course. It can be a little intimidating, but it’s really cool to learn from so many other people who have so much more experience but also different experiences.

“I can get involved with these people that I really look up to and we all learn from each other. I think that was the coolest part.”

Difort must complete another online course to complete her degree, as well as two graduation projects.

“I’m really kicking it down right now and hoping to graduate in December,” she said. “I just worked so much – work and go to school. It was tough, but I know it will be worth it in the end.”


Contact: Tony Ward, Professor and Chair, UM School of Public and Community Health Sciences, 406-243-4092, [email protected]; Dave Kuntz, UM Director of Strategic Communications, 406-243-5659, [email protected]