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University to offer new joint MPH/MPA degree

Program combines public health, public policy through coursework, internship, thesis

A partnership between the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs and the School of Public Health is introducing a new two-year joint Master of Public Health/Master of Public Affairs degree this summer to address the intersection of public health and public policy.

“Brown’s (MPH/MPA) dual degree offers an exceptional educational opportunity for students interested in leadership careers in both global and domestic health policy,” said Eric Patashnik, director of the MPA program.

Patashnik and Patrick Vivier, director of the MPH program, described the two degrees as “complementary,” with both focusing on using various types of analyses to understand policy effectiveness.

“The most important societal problems do not respect disciplinary boundaries,” Patashnik said. “Students need to be prepared to be leaders in the 21st century with schools and tools of multiple disciplines.”

In addition to the core courses, the program is devoted to broader strengthening of students’ skills and knowledge, Patashnik said. Students will participate in a global policy experience to learn how public policies are made in different cultural and political settings. The degree will also require a summer internship, which allows students in their second year to apply their skills to problems prevalent in the real world. Finally, students will round out the program with a thesis paper including an analytics component.    

Policy and public health are “a natural fit,” said Carrie Nordlund, senior administrator of the MPA program. She emphasized that health care is a “really big and important sector of our economy,” contributing nearly 20 percent to the country’s GDP. Data analytics combined with program evaluation and implementation are a major skill set on the policy side, and a new course for the joint degree will include integrating computer programming skills with data analytics.

Vivier believes that these are essential skills for public health as well, which has a focus on biostatistics, quantitative analyses and epidemiology. He hopes that when these skills are combined through the joint degree, students will be able to “assess and examine public health issues and know whether policies or other interventions are having an impact.”

The combination of the two subject areas creates “real, exciting possibilities … in the real world,” Vivier said. Health care cost control, the opioid epidemic and achieving health equity are just a few of the many challenges these students will be equipped to take on, Patashnik said.

“I think that the expertise and the guild that they’ll bring really makes them leaders in the health care field,” Nordlund said. She envisions graduates of the program working at NGOs, big foundations such as the Gates Foundation, city and state departments of health and at all levels of government, emphasizing that the program’s education really prepares them for a “global” impact.

The MPH/MPA program officially kicks off in June 2018, beginning with the MPA requirements. The application deadline is April 1, with decisions being sent out on a rolling admissions basis. Each department will individually narrow down applicants with the skills to succeed in their respective programs, before convening to select the students who are committed to “making a difference” and who will succeed in the “rigorous” nature of this program, Vivier said.

With the introduction of this dual degree, the University will join other institutions around the country such as  the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard and the University of Michigan that offer the joint MPH/MPA degree, but will feature an accelerated path as well as broader coursework and experiences, reflecting the global and systemic nature of these issues, Patashnik said.

“By coming together,” Patashnik said, the Watson Institute and School of Public Health “are creating a program geared towards the complexity of health care challenges in the contemporary world.”


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