Faces of Public Health: Harrison Spencer

Jan 3, 2012, 4:34 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

HarrisonSpencer Harrison Spencer, Association of Schools of Public Health

With the new year and many Spring school semesters starting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Harrison C. Spencer, MD, PhD, president and CEO of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) about what he sees ahead in 2012 for public health.

NewPublicHealth: Are you seeing increasing interest in the study of public health?

Dr. Harrison Spencer: Very much so. Both at campuses where there are schools of public health, as well as individual courses where there are not. The reasons for that include interest among students in academia, service and global health. The increasing interest is pushing us to rethink the continuum of public health education. As part of these efforts, in July, we released the final Undergraduate Public Health Learning Outcomes Model. ASPH gathered experts from public health and arts & sciences faculties to define what every undergraduate should know and be able to do to improve health and eliminate disparities in populations around the world.

We also convened the Summit on Undergraduate Education in Public Health in Washington, D.C. The summit brought together over 150 public health professionals and educators involved or interested in undergraduate education in public health to discuss emerging trends, curriculum models, education and career pathways, and more. We are already planning next year’s Summit on Undergraduate Education, which will be held October 27, 2012 in San Francisco.

>>Read more on workforce issues, and potential undergraduate training solutions, in our Q&A with Paul Jarris, Executive Director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

NPH: What other public health education changes have come about recently?

Dr. Spencer: We have joined with five other national health professions associations: the Association of American Medical Colleges, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Association of Osteopathic Medicine, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, and American Dental Education Association, collectively referred to as the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC). In May, IPEC released a report entitled Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice. An interprofessional orientation is vital to infusing a population health perspective into the education of future health professionals, including clinicians.

NPH: What’s driving the collaboration?

Dr. Spencer: A continuing recognition that when you’re dealing with chronic diseases, it’s not all going to be in the doctor’s office and the hospital. A lot of what is needed to improve health must happen in the community. In the past, the academic community tended to drive the curriculum. Increasingly, schools are beginning to focus on what it is that the public health system needs and back that into education.

NPH: For students who will take jobs in health departments, are they getting training in dealing with underfunding, which is an issue for so many departments?

Dr. Spencer: Increasingly, yes. Students do practicums, including at health departments and some schools create academic health departments that include school’s faculty as well as health department staff to help train students in real world situations that these days have to include underfunding, multitasking and under staffing in many cases. We are trying to see that students who will work in health departments are able to hit the ground running.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.