Reconsidering the MPH core: educating next generation public health professionals

Martha Coventry | November 18, 2015

You Are Invited To Engage!

Freestanding schools of public health emerged for the first time in US universities a century ago.   They were the product of recommendations from the 1915 Welch Rose Report that urged universities to train a public health workforce and help build a public health system the nation had never before possessed and needed urgently. US cities were exploding in population from rural and international migration. The Industrial Age, poverty, lack of infrastructure for sanitation, hygiene, habitation, and basic health needs combined to endanger the nation’s progress. The average US lifespan in those years was barely 50.   The main private east coast universities – Johns-Hopkins, Harvard and Columbia – were the first to respond with the first wave of schools of public health.

Truth be told, it was more of a ripple than a wave. Some 45 years later by 1960, there were only 12 schools of public health nationwide as public land-grant universities such as Minnesota (1944) joined the club during and after World War II (Rosenstock, Helsing & Rimer, 2011). Today (2015), there are 57 accredited schools of public health in the US, Mexico and Canada, a five-fold increase in the last 55 years.

Now, in the 21st Century, public health is global, the world itself is smaller and more than ever there are public health challenges that demand a well educated public health workforce. But what should the substance of that education be in the world of today and tomorrow?

That is the critical question that public health deans, department chairs, and faculty have been asking themselves for the past three years. Under the umbrella of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), new guidelines have been emerging from the work of committees focused on the full range of public health education. Called “Framing the Future,” the purpose and process was best described by its Chair, Dean Donna Petersen of the University of South Florida:

“By challenging existing notions of the way public health is taught and encouraging ongoing efforts by educators, researchers, and practitioners with vested partners and citizens at all levels in society, the Framing the Future: The Second 100 Years of Education for Public Health Task Force is accelerating change and inspiring innovations in producing leaders in education and in public health who are helping to create a healthier nation and world.”

To date, the initiative has delivered more than one dozen reports with recommendations for program and curricular change especially at the Master’s level of training. Here in Minnesota, the faculty-led Education Policy Committee (EPC) and an ad hoc faculty committee have begun to consider how we should respond to recommendations for change in the MPH core.

Some may say, “Why? What’s broken?” Wrong question. The current core has been in place for some 35 years and it is time we consider improving it. The question is: “How do we make the core effective and relevant to the world of today and tomorrow?” Or, “If we built the MPH core new today, would it be the same or would we build it quite differently?”

These are open questions and we need your help in crafting answers and directions for our School and its MPH programs. We aren’t doing this tabula rasa. The ASPPH Framing the Future process has involved hundreds of public health academics, professionals and employers of our graduates. Their wisdom is captured in many of the documents referenced above. There is a greater emphasis now on flexibility and adaptability to the rapidly changing world of public health and how we harness continuous quality improvement to assure our cutting edge.

As we move forward with this discussion, we need you to engage. We have developed a Moodle site to gather your ideas on MPH core curriculum changes and to keep you informed about issues the MPH core curriculum revision committee is discussing. We welcome your input. Please go to the site and sign in with your x500. You will be promoted to enter an enrollment key — use core2015 — and then you will be sent directly to the MPH core Moodle site.

We look forward to hearing from you.

John Finnegan, dean

Kristin Anderson, professor and associate dean for learning systems & student affairs, and Betsy Wattenberg, associate professor, co-chairs of the ad hoc committee to study the MPH core curriculum


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