Healthy Decision

The HSPH curriculum change will benefit its students and the industry

More commendable than mere success is the ambitious pursuit of excellence above and beyond. It is this energy and drive that Dean Barry R. Bloom has brought to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) over the past year. Although HSPH has been perennially ranked among the best public health schools in the nation, Bloom still pushed forward a new, more practical curricular component, based on his knowledge of what his students would face when they left school.

This curricular revision, which was overseen by a group of the school’s associate deans, shifted the path of study away from more traditional, theoretical studies in public health toward practical, current case studies. This revamped curriculum will directly benefit current students and classroom culture: Already, HSPH classes running under the new curriculum have been reported to be more interactive, engaging, and practical by the student body. Beyond the improvement to classroom atmosphere are the gains in graduate preparedness: No doubt, future classes of HSPH grads will be better armed to tackle the actual problems of public health.

Having to deal with real case studies—from the health repercussions of Astroturf to the dangers of the international sex trade—will effectively combat the insular nature of academic study, which too often looks at single issues in isolation. Instead, case studies will force students to take into account all of the real-life problems that complicate public health issues at hand. This is not to say that all theoretical bases for understanding have been thrown aside—nor should they be. Rather, these case studies have been framed effectively so as to wed both practical and theoretical skills in each case.

More encouraging still has been the university-wide collaboration that this curriculum change has fostered. While case study-based courses are new to public health, they are not so novel in other fields. So, as part of the training for this teaching style, many HSPH professors attended a weeklong program at the Harvard Business School to learn how to teach more participatory classes. Cross-university education and the efficient use of Harvard’s abundant resources should be encouraged so that more dynamic and collaborative results can take place in the future for more of the university’s schools.

Going forward, we hope that the improvements to public health curriculum not only take place within Harvard’s gates but influence the nation’s other schools of public health. And, as other schools should continue to push for change within their own halls, HSPH must also make sure that it does not rest on its laurels but, rather, maintains that ambitious pursuit of excellence above and beyond.

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