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Geisel School of Medicine Welcomes New Public Health Students

This week, the Geisel School of Medicine welcomed candidates enrolled in its residential and hybrid Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Science in Healthcare Research (MS) programs to campus for their orientation sessions, which served as a kickoff to a new academic year. Geisel’s MPH degree program is offered in two formats: 11 months on campus or 22 months online with a week-long, on-campus session three times per year.

After extending a warm welcome to the candidates, Geisel Dean Duane Compton, PhD, said, “We’re excited to start this educational journey with you. First of all, let me thank you for actually choosing a profession that is designed to help people. This is one of the most noble things you can decide to do in your life.”

Craig Westling, DrPH, MPH, MS, executive director of education for the MPH and MS programs at Geisel, remembered his first day as a student. “I was pretty jacked up but also nervous meeting all of my peers and teammates and wondered if I really belonged here.

“You totally belong here, every one of you,” he emphasized. “We’re so glad that you’ve decided to join us. You’re going to meet everyone in your cohort and you’re going to know all of your faculty members—it’s what we think makes the programs at Dartmouth so special, just how intimate the whole learning environment is. And part of that is how much you’ll learn from each other.”

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Photos by Rob Strong

Westling told the students, “Each of you wrote an essay about why you wanted to come here and join this program, and if you think of it in terms of the challenge that we’re facing it’s really an economic existential challenge. In the U.S., healthcare is about 20 percent of our GDP—public health is a teeny sliver of that, somewhere between 3-6 percent.

“Our incentives are in the wrong places,” he continued. “We’re treating illness, we’re treating acute episodes, as opposed to trying to keep people healthy. Now, there’s lots of things we can do; public health is so broad. One of the things we want you to do while you’re here is focus on things that you want to do afterwards, focus on pieces of the solution.”

The students began working on just that in an interactive session entitled, “The Challenge of Now,” led by Elliott Fisher, MD, MPH, a professor of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and clinical Practice, medicine, and community and family medicine, who introduced them to three foundational skills in public health—epidemiology, systems thinking, and public narrative.

“The Dartmouth Institute is fundamentally about striving to improve health and healthcare,” explained Fisher. “The most obvious way we do this is by learning to be more effective leaders in teams and organizations. In any of this work, it is essential to motivate others to join us. Public narrative or story telling is a powerful and effective way to do this, as stories help us understand the world, construct our identities, clarify our values, and make ethically sound choices.”

For part of the session, Fisher asked the students to break into pairs to practice a two-minute “story of self,” explaining to classmates why they are working to make a difference in healthcare and then offering each other feedback on how to improve it. They then reconvened for a large group discussion, with many students sharing their thoughts about the exercise.

“Often times in healthcare and science we tend to stress and even prefer numbers,” said Robert E. Braylock, PharmD, MBA, a hybrid MPH candidate. “I think this exercise helped us to really understand the power of narratives in telling stories and really drawing in audiences to understand the importance and impact of our work.”

In addition to their curriculum sessions and coursework the students participated in a number of team building and social activities through the week, including a scavenger hunt on campus, an ice cream social, and a cookout with new medical students at Geisel.