Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

Selecting a school of public health

How do you whittle down over 40 schools of public health to a reasonable list of schools to apply to? Everyone has a different approach. I am sort of a spreadsheet queen, so I keep everything in a single Excel workbook and each school has an individual worksheet. I considered about 25 factors when looking at schools; here are my top four most important things to look at for selecting a school in no particular order.

1. Location, location, location.

Focusing on location is more important than your tendency to be snow averse or a ski bunny. Certain cities such as Atlanta will offer numerous public health internship and practicum opportunities. Obviously, having greater work experience upon graduation is a good position to find yourself in. Internships can also increase your chances of finding fulltime work soon after graduation.

2. Let your passions be your guide.

First and foremost, you need to look at the degree offerings of the schools. The most common credential for graduate-level public health study is the master of public health (MPH). Some schools offer other master’s-level degrees such as the master of health science (MHS) or the master of science in public health (MSPH). Consider the career path that you hope to take when choosing the degree you would like to pursue as some may have a more academic focus with an emphasis on research while others may be more professional in nature, targeted to teach specialized skills. Other degree options include doctorate-level study and joint degrees.

The next consideration should be the area of study that you would like to focus on, if any. Some areas of study, such as epidemiology and health care management will be available at almost every school of public health. My particular area of interest, global or international health, is not available at all schools of public health. Even when global health is available, it may not be an academic department, but rather an interdepartmental specialization or certificate. The academic structure of your area of study has an impact on research and practicum opportunities.

3. Bills, bills, bills.

It has always been important to weigh how to pay for graduate school. It has taken on a new level of importance with the credit crunch as student loans are harder to obtain. Let’s be honest; being a full-time student is far from a lucrative profession. This does not mean that you have to eat bread and water for two years. Most schools offer some merit-based grants to prospective and current students. Often, students apply for these scholarships with submission of their application. Location does play a role in your finances as a graduate student. Attending school in an area with a relatively low cost of living can go a long way to keeping costs down. Applicants should also consider the availability of part-time work if desired or required. Larger universities tend to have more teaching and research assistant positions available for graduate students.

4. Inside and outside the ivory tower.

A school’s research centers and institutes mean more than extra classroom reading. For students interested in a more academic focus, the more research, the better. For students wanting to work in the field, research centers represent opportunities to apply theories and methodologies in the classroom to real-world situations. Some universities give back to their surrounding communities by using the expertise of faculty and enthusiasm of students to improve conditions and outcomes. Even for international health, research institutes such as Columbia’s Millennium Villages Project offer students privileged access to putting their academic lessons  to the test through university-supported affiliates and organizations.

Check out these resources for more information for your select-a-school search:

US News and World Reports Best Graduate Schools in Public Health
Idealist.org Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center
SOPHAS
Your friends and acquaintances (look at educational history through a social networking site such as Linked In)

photo courtesy of S.C. Asher

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Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

My experiences this past year were as much about learning about challenges in global health as realizing how poverty compounds and exacerbates global health issues. The most important lesson I have learned is that nothing occurs in isolation. It will take a lot more than money to help eliminate poverty; focusing exclusively on economic development ignores many of the issues such as global health that contribute to the entrenched nature of poverty in communities worldwide. Participating in Blog Action Day seems an appropriate bookend to a year of volunteering abroad as an opportunity for your involvement.

Reading Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power really opened my eyes to the need to approach global health from the perspective of the poorest of the poor, reinforcing what I saw in my daily experiences. It’s hard to talk about reproductive rights when women do not have access to their own sources of income to assert those rights. It is hard to reduce childhood mortality due to preventable diseases such as malaria and waterborne diseases when families can not pay for access to clean water and bednets. When a mother can not afford to buy milk, encouraging adherence to HIV treatment seems like a pointless task.

Huge global problems such as global poverty remain invisible to many and seem daunting to those aware of the tremendous human impact. There is no quick fix to the problem of global poverty, but you can and should act now. It’s never too late to start and there is always something that you can do. The most important thing is to do something positive; inaction is truly the worst action to take. So speak up, stand up, show up, pay up…whatever it is that will contribute to the end of poverty.

– Learn more about global poverty issues from the ONE Campaign.

– Donate to the Blog Action Day-supported organizations: The Global Fund (via change.org) and Kiva.

– Look around in your community for volunteering opportunities to fight poverty. Idealist.org and Volunteer Match are good resources to begin your search.

– Use the web to connect to organizations abroad to offer your experience and time. NABUUR and UN Online Volunteering offer good starting points.

Ch-Ch-Changes!

Thank you dear readers for being patient with me as I have been settling back in to life in the States. To reward you, I have a couple bits of news to share.

I will spend the next year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member in Houston. The organization that I am working with is called the Partnership for the Advancement & Immersion of Refugees, a relatively new nonprofit that works with refugee youth to help them succeed in education. I am excited to work with PAIR to further develop their programs and build capacity in the organization.

The other piece of good news is that I with eight other bloggers will about graduate school as current and potential master’s degrees candidates in different disciplines as part of Idealist.org’s Grad School Blog Project. I will be blogging about my experiences in applying for graduate school for global health in addition to the usual issues of public health and social change that I blog about. Get ready to read about everything from how to find the program you want to the trials and tribulations of personal statement writing.

Gen Y leadership on social change is more crucial than ever

It has become blatantly clear that Millennials have a lot of responsibility at their feet for cleaning up the current mess that the world is in. It certainly is not everyday that you see almost daily failures of financial institutions that have been around for over 100 years. While these major headlines are shocking, it is the changes at the local level where the human impact is most apparent and greatest: the failure of small business and families’ decisions to cut back on medical care.

If you are looking at my hometown of Houston, the economic depression is compounded by the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike. You would think that we would have learned from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina: safer mandatory evacuations, rapid restoration of critical services, and faster disaster recovery to get affected families back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, many of the victims of Hurricane Ike have found themselves ignored by the very institutions that are supposed to assist them. Maybe Generation Y is right to be suspicious of institutions’ ability to effect social change.

Optimists may prefer to make social change the focus of their career, electing to work within established institutions to change them from the inside outward. Others try to find their own way to be the change they want to see in the world whether through digital media or the next great idea to help the most people.