Master’s of public health degree to be offered online

by Erin Lee | 2/24/16 7:21pm

In August, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice will launch its online master of public health program for the first time. In addition to online lectures and projects, the two-year program will also include six short residential periods where students convene on campus to meet each other and their professors, TDI academic director for education Alice Andrews said.

The online program will be similar to the one-year residential MPH program currently offered, and both programs are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.

“It’s the same program with a different delivery method,” Andrews said.

TDI director Elliott Fisher said the MPH programs aim to provide students with the tools to understand how healthcare systems work and eventually create change. Dartmouth’s programs specifically focus on healthcare delivery, in addition to quantitative methods, epidemiology and statistics.

“We want to develop the skills required to make a difference, with sufficient depth and rigor so that they can go back to their systems and improve them,” he said.

The online program will admit 20 to 25 students in its inaugural class, though future classes could have as many as 50 students, Andrews said.

“We want to start small so we can learn as we go,” she said. “It’s a good sized cohort for people to learn from each other.”

In 2015, 40 student earned an MPH degree from the College through the one-year residential program currently being offered.

Fisher added that the number of applications to the online MPH program have been better than expected so far.

The online MPH is primarily targeted to working health professionals who may not live in the area or be able to take time off from their job to attend the residential program, Fisher said.

Applicants to the online program are expected to have five to 10 years of work experience, Andrews said. So far, applicants have been from a range of backgrounds, including public policy, private health consulting firms, clinical practice, medical residency and hospital data analytics, she said.

Ultimately, the one-year residential MPH program will most likely appeal more to recent college graduates, and the two-year online program will primarily attract working professionals, Fisher said. In the future, TDI may develop a five-year MPH program for undergraduates, he added.

Fisher said planning for the online program began about a year ago. Dartmouth was the first school to offer a one-year MPH program, and since then the market has changed — more MPH programs are now offered online, he said. After TDI’s master of health care delivery science program, an online-residential hybrid started in 2011, proved to be successful, the door opened for additional online initiatives, he said.

“We realized we can deliver really good online learning when you combine it with brief residential periods,” Fisher said. “Students got the same kind of close, personal experience Dartmouth students expect from Dartmouth.”

Between residential periods, students in the online MPH program will have about 15 hours of work per week, involving both synchronous sessions ­— where all members are online at the same time — and asynchronous work, Andrews said. Students can attend web-based lectures from faculty members in real time, in addition to posting on discussion boards and blogs and working in virtual study groups, she said.

TDI and Geisel School of Medicine professor Paul Batalden will lead a course for the online MPH program currently titled “Systems and Services.” The course is based on the idea that healthcare services involve two parties: the professional and the beneficiary, he said. The class will explore how that relationship relates to relevant healthcare policy, payment, ethics and science and how to redesign and improve systems, he said.

Batalden said he has been working on the coursework for the online MPH program for about a month. He is focusing on adapting the material already taught in the residential MPH program to the online format and adjusting it for the diversity of the students he will be teaching. Students will be able to watch lectures, write responses and answer focus questions in this class.

“It’s a fun challenge to try to put the learning together in a way that makes for a great learning experience and takes full advantage of the technology,” he said.

Online platforms offer the ability to customize learning to the student’s schedule and specific areas of interest, Batalden said.

TDI and Geisel psychiatry professor William Nelson, who will also teach a course in the online MPH program, said he wants to get to know the students as well as relate the content to their own healthcare experiences and the systems they are involved with. His area of specialty is healthcare ethics, and he is planning on teaching a short segment of the program in addition to consulting with other faculty members to integrate ethics into their own courses.

“Ethics is the foundation for the delivery of effective, efficient, safe, patient-centered healthcare,” he said.

Fisher said he is excited that the online MPH program can include people already working in health care, in addition to students recently out of college.

“We can reach people working on the front lines, while bringing in the next generation of people to lead,” he said.