Visiting Chinese Deans Learn About the “Columbia Model” for Public Health Education

August 1, 2012

Deans from some of the top public health schools in China visited the Mailman School on July 30th to learn about its educational programs with an eye to strengthening public health education in China. Their visit was well-timed, coming just one month before the debut of Mailman’s innovative MPH curriculum—the product of a three-year effort involving more than 150 faculty members.

Left to Right: Profs. Deliang Tang and Liming Li

The visit was one stop on a weeklong tour, sponsored by the China Medical Board, that also took the group to Harvard, Rockefeller University, and the University of North Carolina.

“We learned a lot about public health education reform, especially the new MPH model—the Columbia model,” says Professor Liming Li, Board Chairman of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and founding director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, adding the School has done “pioneering work.” The delegation also included deans of public health schools in Shanghai, Bejing, and several other large cities in China.

In the morning, Ana Abraido-Lanza, PhD and Assistant Dean Jim Glover introduced the group to the components of new MPH program, including its interdisciplinary core curriculum and its use of the case study method. In the afternoon, faculty members Bin Cheng, PhD, Leslie Davidson, MD, MSc, Jennifer Hirsch, PhD, Deliang Tang, MD, DrPH, and Joe Korevec, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, provided an overview of the School’s doctoral-level degree programs. The visiting deans had a number questions about the DrPH, which is not offered in China, particularly how the degree differs from a PhD in its emphasis on applied research.

Introducing the DrPH in China could be one part of a larger effort to update public health education in the country. The current system has its origins in the Soviet Union of the 1950s, explains Dr. Li, and emphasizes biomedical training over disciplines like sociomedical sciences and health policy and management. “We want to learn new models to better meet China’s needs.”

In China like the U.S., many urgent public health concerns center on chronic diseases, he says. “China is now an aging society. Risk factors for chronic disease are rising very quickly.”

Pollution is another big issue and one where Mailman School researchers are collaborating with Chinese scientists. For example, a study by Dr. Tang and colleagues at the Columbia Center for Environmental Health, in collaboration with Shanghai Fudan University, has shown that closing a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China, led to improvements in cognitive development for children living in the region.

“International cooperation is important to deal with this kind of challenging issue,” says Dr. Li.