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Competencies for Modern Public Health

Planning is under way in Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, China and the United States to revamp public health education driven by a new understanding of the competencies required in our modern era. Recognizing the common challenges of designing competency-based curricula, the Public Health Foundation of India—in cooperation with the Harvard School of Public Health and the China Medical Board—organized a workshop in New Delhi, India on 18-19 April 2012 on “Cross-Country Comparison of Master’s and Doctoral Level Public Health Programs with a Focus on Competency-Driven Curriculum.”

Participants represented the Hanoi School of Public Health (Vietnam), the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), the BRAC University School of Public Health (Bangladesh), Fudan University School of Public Health (China), and the Harvard School of Public Health. While Asian-led, the workshop especially invited Harvard because of the importance of American accreditation standards in shaping public health education around the world.

Discussion centered on the following topics:

What problems/issues exist in public health education? Public demand for public health is increasing, but with less money invested by governments, there is a mismatch between demand and supply. Public health education has not adapted sufficiently or quickly over the past 100 years to incorporate problem-based curriculum or systems-based teaching. Public health education has done well in creating researchers, but needs to do better at producing professional practitioners who are problem-solvers.

Landscaping findings of master’s and doctoral level public health programs. Graphs were generated for each participating country that landscaped the current situation in public health education, including teaching methodology, duration of course, fees, accreditation, and best practices. (See workshop report.)

Brainstorming exercise. Participants brainstormed about the public health problems that exist, functions public health professionals need to perform, and how to link needs to the competencies in the curriculum.

Learning from various competency framework models. The group critically reviewed available models, including ones developed by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Hanoi School of Public Health. Commonalities and dissimilarities were discussed but no one model emerged as the best universal model. Participants agreed that more models should be analyzed, including those adopted by the European Schools of Public Health.

Shifting the paradigm on competency frameworks for public health professionals. Today, most schools are teaching core areas and integrating disciplines, but have not adequately integrated problem solving into practice.

Two working groups were formed who will present findings in the next 15 months. Prof. Ian Lapp (Harvard School of Public Health) and Prof. Sanjay Zodpey (PHFI) will work on defining competencies for MPH graduates around the world. Prof. Bui Thi Thu Ha (Hanoi School of Public Health) and Prof. Sabina Faiz Rashid (BRAC University) with the support of Prof Richard Cash (PHFI and Harvard) will develop specific curricular innovations, including integrated courses, case studies, and specific problem-solving.

The group was particularly excited about contributing to the transformation of public health education. As their report concludes: “Especially attractive is the possibility that a global (not just American) movement can be developed to refashion a new vision for public health education by 2015, marking the second century of the Welch-Rose report.”