An Explosion of Non-Degree Course Offerings

March 10, 2022

In 2012, the Columbia Mailman School launched the first academic public health program in climate and health anywhere. Now, the School is launching an intensive summer bootcamp that gives participants the latest science on the health impacts of climate change, along with practical approaches to mitigation and adaptation that they can apply to their professional work.

The Climate Change and Health bootcamp is just one example of an explosion of non-degree course offerings in line with the School’s commitment to lifelong learning. Largely designed for public health professionals seeking to level-up their skills, these short courses cover topics from statistical methods to scientific communications, from epigenetics to environmental justice. The number of these courses has grown steadily every year; hundreds of participants now take part.

The Department of Epidemiology’s EpiSummer @ Columbia launched in 2011. Intensive short courses are offered in either synchronous or asynchronous formats. This year, applicants can choose from among 30 offerings, from courses on epidemiological methods to specialized courses on statistical programming languages, and subjects from nutrition to police violence. Among a handful of new courses offered this year are Mixed-Methods for Public Health Researchers and Sleep Epidemiology. More than 500 participants are expected.

The SHARP (Skills for Health & Research Professionals) bootcamp program got started in 2017 with a single epigenetics course taught by faculty in Environmental Health Sciences. Today SHARP offers 20 trainings on a variety of technical topics from the microbiome to machine learning. Last year, the program added a popular course in environmental justice. Among new additions this year are the aforementioned climate and health bootcamp. And for the first time, SHARP offered several courses over the winter break.

Professional education courses offered by the Department of Health Policy and Management (HPM) focus on leadership development and health policy for healthcare executives and physicians. The Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Academy was launched in 2017 by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP), in collaboration with HPM, and HPM delivers strategic management and health policy training to NYP physicians. A similar program has been run for Chinese healthcare leaders through the American Chamber of Commerce-China and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. In 2021, NYP launched REACH Academy, in collaboration with ICAP at Columbia, to prepare participants to predict, detect, manage, and lead responses to emerging infectious diseases and health disasters; HPM faculty are among its instructors. HPM’s programs also include the Health System Simulation—a management training exercise—which is offered to members of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), as well as several health systems in New York City including Mount Sinai Health System and NYC Health+Hospitals.

Faculty in Population and Family and Health and Sociomedical Sciences have recently added several free online courses, including one course launched in late 2021 on the global menstrual movement; others include courses on protecting children in humanitarian settings and the treat-all approach to fighting HIV with antiretroviral therapy.

Other non-degree courses are offered as part of summer pipeline programs for undergraduates from historically marginalized groups. Programs include Summer Public Health Scholars, Biostatistics Epidemiology Summer Training (BEST) program, and the Program to Inspire Minority Undergraduates in Environmental Health Science Research (PrIMER). ICAP at Columbia also offers global internships for students from underrepresented groups.

Looking ahead, the School is exploring ways to build on the success of these non-degree courses and training programs to align with a larger vision for lifelong learning. Lifelong Learning Taskforce with members from across School’s units and departments is including the input of alumni and public health employers to guide its recommendations.

“We are looking at a number of options for expanding our capacity to educate the next generation of public health leaders with more flexible access and opportunities for broader audiences,” says the Taskforce’s facilitator, Roxanne Russell, director of Online Education.

Next steps may include the creation of an online public health certificate, a lifelong learning web presence and portal for course offerings, and a schoolwide lifelong learning unit.  

Michael Joseph, Vice Dean of Education, says, “Whether someone is looking for an introduction to public health or an opportunity to update their skills, our non-degree courses have something for everyone. The demand for public health knowledge and skills is growing all the time.”