Richard Skolnik – Author of Global Health 101In April 2014, Unite for Sight asked me to facilitate a workshop on teaching global health at its annual Global Health and Innovation Conference.
The aims of the 90-minute workshop were to exchange ideas about:
- The learning objectives of introductory courses in global health
- The content of an introductory course on global health
- Approaches to teaching global health that encourage student interest and learning
The workshop attracted about 75 people. Almost everyone in the workshop was involved with teaching global health but a few participants were students of global health or former students of global health.
The participants graciously and freely exchanged ideas. While this note cannot do justice to the richness of the ideas that were raised, it does highlight a few key points that emerged.
The Learning Objectives of an Introductory Global Health Course
There was widespread agreement that students need to understand:
- Basic health indicators and the use of data on health
- Basic concepts of demography and their relation to the burden of disease\
- Basic concepts of epidemiology
- The burden of disease and risk factors
- The determinants of health
- Culture and its relation to health
- Equity issues
- How to get value for money from health investments
- Who plays in global health and the global health “landscape”
Many of the participants in the discussion want to be sure that their students also leave a global health course with an enhanced ability to:
- Understand and use a variety of resources that can help one study and work in global health
- Make decisions on the basis of evidence
- Think critically about global health issues and actions
- Look at the world from a variety of points of view
- Better appreciate the potential role that the students might play in global health and how they might play it
- Present key global health issues, recommendations, and actions in an articulate manner, orally and in writing
- Be geographically literate
Getting Students in the Mood
A number of faculty indicated that they assign for the course a major reading or book to help “set a framework and get students in the mood” for the study of global health. Some people assign all of the book at the beginning of the course. Others assign part of the book at the beginning of the course and other readings from the book during the remainder of the course.
The following were among the most common books used for this purpose:
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down – Fadiman
- Pathologies of Power – Farmer
- Mountains Beyond Mountains – Kidder
- The Tipping Point – Gladwell
- Poor Economics – Bannerjee and Duflo
- The Click Moment – Johansson
A number of participants also ask students early in the course to read pieces that reflect the views of “affected people”.
Approaches to Teaching
The participants in the discussion outlined a number of approaches to teaching global health in a manner that could assist in achieving their learning objectives in engaging and enjoyable ways.
- Many of the participants use “cases” in their teaching, although not usually in the style, say, of a business school. Some of these faculty use cases from Millions Saved
- A number of participants use problem-solving approaches as a key part of their approach to teaching global health
- A number of participants also use “role playing” in their courses, often coupled with giving the students a problem to solve.
- A number of participants indicated that they make good use of the wide array of videos on global health. They believe that these can allow students to see things first hand, listen to people they might not otherwise meet or hear from, and nicely lay our for the students both problems and solutions.
- Some participants engage in problem solving in conjunction with students in other universities. This could include, of course, twinning with other universities internationally.
- A number of participants bring guest speakers into the classroom remotely. The need for this was said to be more acute in schools that are not in major global health hubs and that are not resource rich.
Despite my having worked in global health for 40 years, taught it for 13 years, and written about it widely …. I found the workshop very enlightening. Participants presented a number of ideas that I had never before considered but will certainly bring into my next classes. I have invited those who participated in the workshop to continue to share ideas with each other, either directly or through, for example, the forum on undergraduate public health education of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPH).
Richard Skolnik is a Lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, where he teaches global health courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Richard was previously an Instructor in Global Health at The George Washington University, the Vice President for International Programs at the Population Reference Bureau, and the Executive Director of the Harvard School of Public Health PEPFAR program. Richard worked at the World Bank from 1976 to 2001, last serving as the Director for Health and Education for South Asia. Richard is the author of Global Health 101, a comprehensive, introductory text on global health.