Online master of public health launches

by Lauren Budd | 8/18/16 7:42pm

News.MastersPublicHealth2_CourtesyofLarsBlackmore

Participants in the College's online Masters of Public Health program met with faculty and peers on campus.

Source: Courtesy of Lars Blackmore

Dartmouth’s first class of its online master of public health program arrived on campus earlier this month.

The two-year program, run by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, includes online lectures and projects as well as six residential periods where students reside on campus.

The new program will be similar to the one-year residential program, which enrolls around 60 students per year, TDI education director Alice Andrews said.

The new, mainly online program aims to make the master’s program accessible to the many interested applicants who cannot take time off from work for a full year.

The program was first conceived two years ago, when TDI director Elliott Fisher and the faculty of TDI reviewed their curriculum in order to improve and expand it.

The on-site weeks in Hanover include weekly meetings with study groups and faculty leaders to discuss curricula, practicum progress and other ideas.

Program participant Maggie Cooke noted that the online component of the program will allow her to synthesize her experiences at her current workplace at a healthcare nonprofit with the program itself.

She described the hybrid program as “innovative” and a “wave of the future,” as well as a way to harness the potential of healthcare professionals who would not have had the opportunity to pursue such a degree otherwise.

Participants said they appreciate that the program allows them the flexibility to continue with their current careers and schedules.

Cooke learned about the program through her workplace, the Rippel Foundation. The organization provides funding to initiatives and programs innovating in the health care industry to promote system reform. Cooke, who had always wanted to pursue a master’s degree in public health, had previously found it difficult to find a program that would cater to her needs as someone who works full time with a commute and small children.

For Joanna Sullivan, the online component of the course was appealing as it allows her to continue to work full-time while not limiting her to an independent study. Sullivan hopes to apply her degree toward working in global public health. Noting current changes in the healthcare system, she said she looks forward to being a part of the field as it evolves.

Participant Amit Desai works full-time as a physician and was thus unable to take time off to pursue his master’s. In addition to his obligations to his patients, he did not want to disrupt his work-life balance or move away from his home in Seattle. The Dartmouth program will give him the ability to critically analyze health information and develop a healthy suspicion, he said.

He highlighted the program’s rigorous approach to learning how to measure populations, and looking at the population as a whole. Desai said has always been interested in health policy and quality improvement and has followed the work of faculty involved with the program. He was inspired by their work regarding supply-sensitive care and their ideas about how to improve healthcare.

Cheryl Shefchik, another program participant, said that Dartmouth had already been on her radar due to its prestige and strong word-of-mouth. The hybrid aspect of the master’s appealed to her, as she is an active duty army officer serving in the National Guard. Being an officer keeps her on the road constantly, so she needed to pursue an online program, she said.

Shefchik added that she benefits most from learning from others, especially from in-class discussions. She was afraid that she would not get the same educational benefits from an online program and dreaded having to go to school in a form she was not excited about and that might not offer the same educational experience as on-campus learning.

Shefchik noted that the Dartmouth curriculum is very structured and weekly live web sessions hold participants accountable, unlike other online learning opportunities where one could simply load the lecture and listen while at the gym or driving. Her physical distance from the program was actually a benefit, she said, as she could immediately begin applying everything she learns to the context of her day-to-day life.

Others interviewed expressed similarily positive reviews of the program thus far.

During Cooke’s orientation last week, she was surprised by the engagement and preparation of her peers, noting that the class possesses common motivations despite their different backgrounds.

The faculty have given her a new perspective on the industry by encouraging “healthy skepticism” among participants, Cooke said. Even after her first week, the program gave her challenged many of her preconceived notions, she said.

Desai said that the program emphasizes teamwork, negotiation and organizational development skills. Before the program, he could not have imagined being so close to his faculty and peers, he said. He felt that after he knew them fro only the span of the six-day orientation, he already knew them well.