What's New in Schools and Programs of Public Health? Q&A with Harrison Spencer

Nov 11, 2013, 4:03 PM

file Harrison Spencer, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (image courtesy of Tulane University)

The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), like the American Public Health Association, held its annual meeting in Boston last week. NewPublicHealth spoke with Harrison Spencer, MD, MPH, executive director of the ASPPH, from Boston about the meeting and what’s ahead for students of public health.

NewPublicHealth: How was the meeting and what were some of the key sessions?

Harrison Spencer: Our meeting this year was the first one held since we formed our new organization, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, on August 1. The new organization is now comprised of all accredited public health academic institutions, both schools and programs. We’ve got 93 members now, an increase from 57 members before, so this was a wonderful and exciting and dynamic annual meeting with lots of energy and lots of promise.

Among the highlights were Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, president of the Institute of Medicine, who gave us an inspirational talk about public health leadership, and Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, who led a discussion on diversity as a way to make organizations and institutes stronger.   

During the executive session on Monday, we focused on two major areas—population health and the health system, and big data. Those two issues are of particular importance to our member institutions and there is a great deal of opportunity for strategic thinking and involvement.

NPH: And what changes ahead do you see happening to curriculum in schools and programs of public health?

Harrison Spencer: I think it’s interesting that 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the Welch-Rose Report, which was the seminal report that established public health education in the U.S., and led to the formation of Johns Hopkins and other schools of public health. The Welch-Rose Report focused on people with other credentials such as doctors and nurses and additional training needed in order for those people to qualify as state health officers. What has evolved is more complex and constantly changing and so we’re in the process of an initiative called Framing the Future, the Next 100 Years. It’s led by Dean Donna Petersen at the University of South Florida. Dean Petersen calls it an “empty room” approach, which means everything is on the table—or off the table. We’re looking at what public health education should look like in the next century with the idea that by 2015 we will have completed a report that builds on Welch-Rose.

The public health workforce situation is changing—budget cuts to local and state health departments; continually increasing interest in global health positions by students of public health; as well as increasing needs for public health experts in other sectors of society, make many believe that we really need a revised curriculum to best prepare public health graduates for the future needs of the country.

We’re working much more broadly on curriculum development than just the organization and its members. We have an employer advisory group; we’re trying to engage all kinds of partners in many ways to get a better handle on the content and context of the public health undergraduate degree, the MPH degree, DrPH programs, and training for population health work, so it’s really an exciting time.

NPH: What similarities and what differences to U.S. health training come to bear when developing a global health curriculum?

Harrison Spencer: There’s a lot of overlap. Many communities in this country have incredible health disparities and some of the issues in those communities around poverty and education, for example, are not so different from you might find elsewhere in the world.  

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