Transformative education for public health leaders

Fall 2012 ]

Killer infections. A dramatic rise in chronic diseases. Environmental emergencies. Unequal access to medical care. These problems—just a few of the daunting public health issues facing the world today—demand not only wide-ranging expertise, but also inspired leadership.  To help future public health leaders meet this challenge, a $5 million gift has been made to Harvard School of Public Health to fund a “Leadership Incubator for Strengthening Health Systems.” The gift is a key component of the “Roadmap to 2013,” a comprehensive review of HSPH’s educational strategy, which is being undertaken as the School approaches its centennial in fall 2013.

The Leadership Incubator for Strengthening Health Systems is expected to be supported by an anonymous gift of $5 million—the largest gift ever made to HSPH in support of education.

Breaking the Mold

According to Dean Julio Frenk, the incubator will foster changes in education that will “break the mold,” pushing the traditional discipline-based boundaries of academia, research, and public health. It will encourage a greater focus in coursework on the importance of leadership and on the complexities—political, economic, and social—of achieving global improvements in public health. “A new doctor of public health (DrPH) degree that we envision, for example, will be oriented toward competencies in high-level policy analysis and problem-solving leadership,” he said. “This gift will enable us to continue as the leading school of public health—first in quality as well as first in our capacity to shape the future.”

“We have followed with admiration the work of the School for more than two decades, and this initiative is one of the most exciting things that we have seen during this period,” the donors said. “It speaks to our deep belief in the power of young people—in particular, this generation of young people—to change the world.”

Immersive Education

A key component of the gift supports students at all levels of experience and creates opportunities for them to learn from each other. Another unique and important part of the gift supports faculty members’ efforts to work with alumni and other public health leaders to create state-of-the-art curricula, new teaching methods, technology enhanced learning, and an immersive and life-changing educational experience for professional degree students.

Under a proposal to redesign the DrPH degree, for example, 25 outstanding students, beginning in 2014, will be named each year as “Centennial Fellows”; 10 will be supported by the new gift. Students will complete two years of coursework, bolstered by case studies, crisis simulations, and field experience, followed by an innovative third-year internship experience that serves as the capstone to the degree.

The Leadership Incubator is also expected to sustain already established leaders at various points in their careers. For current leaders, HSPH has already initiated a Ministerial Leadership in Health Program, an intensive five-day campus-based program for ministers of health, which is followed by year-long support from experienced public health experts and HSPH faculty. Meanwhile, leaders who have recently held high-level public health positions can spend time on campus as “Senior Leadership Fellows,” sharing expertise with students and project work with faculty members. And a new joint initiative with Harvard Business School will give advanced leaders the chance to study major social problems that shape health.

Primed to Make an Impact

“HSPH’s new Leadership Incubator will provide the impetus for a paradigm shift in educating entrepreneurial public health students—both young and old, less experienced and more—who will be primed to make the greatest possible impact on the health challenges of the 21st century,” said Ian Lapp, associate dean for strategic educational initiatives. “We are extremely grateful for this historic gift, which will enable us to live out the spirit of our centennial celebration by beginning our second century with innovations in the education of today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.”

Karen Feldscher