New leadership-focused doctoral program draws unprecedented interest

Leadership-focused doctoral program

Spring 2014 ]

A new HSPH doctoral program beginning in July has generated an unprecedented level of interest, drawing 286 applicants for just 15 spots. The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program will prepare graduates to be leaders in the health sector—such as health ministers, heads of government agencies, directors of nongovernmental organizations, or corporate executives—by providing a unique mix of classroom training and real-world experience. The program has clearly “struck a chord,” says Peter Berman, faculty director of the new DrPH degree program.

Historically, HSPH’s doctoral programs have focused on preparing students for leadership roles in academic and research settings, with an emphasis on scientific rigor and deep knowledge of the field. The DrPH will instead focus on “translation”: teaching people who will lead government agencies, NGOs, or private sector businesses how to use public health research and science to develop policies and programs that dramatically improve population health.

“The logic behind this program is that, all over the world, health systems are becoming more complex, and the challenges for people who lead in these systems are becoming more complicated,” says Berman. “Until now, doctoral degrees in public health have essentially been research degrees, and people with these degrees who chose to pursue careers of action and service have had to learn leadership skills on the job. This is the gap that our DrPH degree is trying to fill.”

New ways to tackle health problems

Students in the program will study essential public health topics—epidemiology, biostatistics, social sciences, research methods—but also will learn about leadership, management, innovation, and communications. They’ll learn both through classroom lectures and from case studies, visiting speakers, short experiences in the field, and simulations. And instead of writing a traditional dissertation, in the last year of the three-year program they will work at a public-health-related organization or government agency on a “culminating project” that achieves a significant public health result. For instance, a student might work at an NGO to improve control of an emerging noncommunicable disease in a middle-income country. Another might work at a U.S. government agency to reduce numbers of the uninsured poor in one of the 50 states. Both would devise their projects, implement them, and measure their effectiveness.

The first class will be diverse, with a wide range of work experience—a program requirement—and will come from all over the world. Roughly a third of the Americans in the program will be from underrepresented minority groups. In future years, each new class will include 25 students. Berman says those accepted to the program “are and will be an amazing group of really interesting and capable people across the whole spectrum of public health interest.”

A step up in training

HSPH’s new doctoral program was developed over the past year amid a general rethinking of professional graduate education in public health—a sense that stepped-up training is necessary to create a larger and more varied group of leaders to tackle increasingly complex health problems.

“While a number of other schools of public health have instituted new or revised DrPH degree programs, we believe HSPH’s innovative program represents a giant leap forward,” says Ian Lapp, associate dean for strategic educational initiatives. “That’s because it gives students not only a broad understanding of all aspects of public health, but also the tools and training they need to lead, manage, and create real change in the health of people the world over.”

Madeline Drexler

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