Knowing, doing and being

Over the past two years, Dean Donna Petersen (University of South Florida) has done a heroic job of leading Framing the Future, a major effort of what is now the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). The initiative’s purpose is to envision where 21st century public health education should be focused and set us on the path to getting there. Dean Bob Meenan (Boston University) is leading an effort to redesign the MPH as envisioned by ASPPH, long overdue. Bob is doing a great job.

At a meeting at Harvard, called Second Century Symposium, I moderated the session: Reinventing the classroom, campus and community for learning and teaching. There were five panelists, two of whom came from fields other than public health. The panel’s discussions led to some important insights. Education in public health should focus on knowing, doing (skills building, practice) and being (the ethics and expectations for professionals, professionalism). There was remarkable similarity of thinking across fields. We pay disproportionate attention to knowing in education and far less to doing. Medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy students spend a significant part of their training in supervised field conditions, doing with supervision what they will do when they complete their education. Most public health students spend considerably less time doing, despite the requirement of practica, usually in the summer between first and second years. Our degree redesign should rectify this imbalance. We must be sure that students emerge with the requisite skills.

I am writing this on the way to a meeting in Japan—a very long plane ride. One of our recent graduates came up to me in the airport, and we chatted about his exciting new job and the trip he was about to make to Ethiopia. I asked him what he wished he had more of while in school. One of the areas he mentioned was sufficient hands-on, quantitative experience. Doing. He was very complimentary about our School. That certainly was true for me.

These discussions are important. We should be looking forward and asking what kind of education is needed now, in light of today’s younger students and the world we live in. Education should evolve. If it does not, we are not doing our job. This is exciting!

Happy Monday! Barbara

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