As the 2016–2017 School of Public Health academic year begins, so does the School’s brand-new, redesigned Master of Public Health (MPH).
The comprehensive overhaul is based on changes in student demographics, expanded exposure to public health coursework, new teaching methods, and the ongoing evolution of the public health workforce.
The new curriculum project at SPH, first begun in 2014, coincided with a nationwide effort to redesign the MPH by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), which established an MPH Expert Panel to consult with public health leaders and employers.
Associate Dean for Education and Professor of Biostatistics Lisa Sullivan served as a member of the ASPPH panel, and also headed the MPH Task Force at SPH. After two years, Sullivan and her colleagues emerged with a redesigned 48-credit MPH degree program for the School.
Gone is the longstanding concept of areas of concentration tightly aligned with academic department structure. After four integrated, foundational core courses, students will take at least one of nine functional areas of study, like Community Assessment; Epidemiology & Biostatistics; or Health Communication & Promotion. While exploring these functional areas, students can also customize their knowledge via specific contextual areas of study, like Pharmaceuticals; Sex, Sexuality & Gender; or Social Justice, Human Rights & Health Equity. These studies will then be put to use with professional development and practical experience.
“The new MPH is much more integrated than it ever was before,” Sullivan says. “It’s also much more specialized than it ever was before. Students are coming in with different skills, and we hope that this gives them the training they need by meeting them where they are coming in, and taking them to where they want to go to be successful in the field.”
As the new MPH kicked off with the first day of classes on September 6, Sullivan discussed changes in public health, the rewards of a School-wide effort, and what goes into raising the bar.
Why change the MPH?
We actually started looking at our MPH five years ago, and there were several reasons. Our program was strong and our graduates got great jobs. But, our student demographics had changed. The students coming in were no longer predominantly mid-career professionals, they were recent graduates with a couple years’ experience. Lots of them had seen public health or some aspects of public health in their undergraduate training, so we needed to raise the bar on the core curriculum so that they could jump in at a higher level and get more out of the program.
Also where our students are going has changed. The employment options have expanded greatly—our graduates are in every sector across the spectrum, so we needed to bring our MPH training up so that it could prepare students for everything from pharmaceuticals to community advocacy to policy to the healthcare industry.
In 2012 the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) launched Framing the Future, where they were to revision the entire educational continuum for public health, and part of that was undergraduate training, the master’s training, and doctoral-level training. Former SPH Dean Bob Meenan was invited to chair the MPH expert panel, and I was a member of that panel. It was good timing for us: We had done a lot of the groundwork, studied our own program, and then this national effort came on to look at the whole educational continuum, and we were in a good position to both affect that and participate, and maybe get more out of it because we had already put in a lot of the preliminary work. As we were doing our internal work we were hearing from people all over the country at top schools and programs about what the future was going to look like.
What was involved in redesigning the MPH?
This was a huge effort. It was a lot of work on the part of our faculty and staff. We had working groups in five major areas, we looked at the core, we looked at our specialty areas, our concentrations and our certificates, we looked at the practicum, we looked at the integrated learning experience, and we looked at where graduates were going and what kinds of jobs they were getting. We had a taskforce that met every week, we had town halls, we had updates at staff and faculty meetings. It was a School-wide effort, and I think that the product we came up with reflects the expertise of all of us here. I think it’s something we can all be proud of.
What about the best parts of the previous MPH? The popular concentrations and the unique areas of expertise that bring students to SPH?
They’re still here! The areas that we have been known for and been recognized for are still part of our MPH, but everything has been brought to a new level, everything got a look, because as we were doing this we really wanted to look at everything and make sure all of the parts of our program were strong. We didn’t leave anything behind; we’ve expanded our offerings, I hope to meet the needs of our students and the public health workforce.
How will we know if this new MPH works?
We have an evaluation that’s happening, we have faculty who are involved in the evaluation process, and that was actually a major part of the redesign. We never aimed to change things just for the sake of it; we want to make sure we’re doing the right things. We’ve got an evaluation plan, and that’s underway—we’ll see how things go, but we definitely want to make sure that we’re on the right track, and we’ll also be checking in with students and making sure that they’re getting the training that they need.
It’s really exciting to have the new students here and excited about the new certificates and the integrated core. I’m looking forward to teaching one of the core courses, Quantitative Methods. We’ve been working hard to get ourselves up to speed and get everything together, but it’s been a fun experience working with people around the School.
Learn more about the new Master of Public Health.