Light & Verity

Public health through a global lens

Last fall, 21 students at Yale’s School of Public Health began something new—and old. The students are the first members of the school’s two-year global health concentration, a master’s degree program. Yet global health, according to Dean Paul Cleary, has been integral to the school ever since its inception almost 100 years ago.

There’s no contradiction. The program has merely been on a two-year sabbatical.

“There has always been an impressive global health program here,” Cleary says, but when he took office in 2006, he felt it could be “reenergized and changed to make it better.”

This is not a position calculated to make an incoming dean popular with his new colleagues. Nevertheless, Cleary put the program on temporary hiatus. He brought in a team of outside experts to review the curriculum and structure of what was then called the global health division, one of eight academic divisions in the school. “The problem we found is that global health isn’t a discipline—it’s an application of disciplines,” says Cleary.

The group recommended that the division be replaced with a concentration that could be chosen by students specializing in any of the seven remaining divisions. “We felt it was no longer good enough to say you’re a global health generalist,” says public health professor Elizabeth Bradley ’96PhD, who chaired an internal committee that developed the new concentration. “You need solid expertise in a particular discipline.”

In addition to completing the academic program required by the division, global health concentrators take two foundation courses—in global health systems and the epidemiology and control of disease in low- and middle-income countries. Also required are a year-long weekly seminar, presented by experts in Yale’s health-oriented disciplines; and an internship arranged through an international government agency or nonprofit. “We designed the concentration to give students a familiarity with the vocabulary and context of global health issues, along with a deep, meaningful experience in the field,” says Bradley.

Geetanjoli Banerjee, 25, who is concentrating in global health while in the school’s epidemiology of microbial diseases division, explains the attraction of the new approach: “I’m looking for the tools in administration, policy, science, and hospital practice that we need to master disease outbreaks and be helpful throughout the world.” Banerjee came to Yale as a Peace Corps alumna; she spent two years working in HIV awareness in South Africa. “We’re all passionate about global health,” she says.

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