Getting into the (public health) game with the Health Systems Development course


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One of the highlights of the MPH is the optional Health Systems Development (HSD) course offered by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Public Health Education and Training. When we were first told about it back in October, it garnered quite a lot of interest for its hands-on approach to professional development and health systems management. It was the opportunity to learn the operations of international health systems while at the same time maintaining a focus on the English NHS, incorporate crucial management & leadership skills, and finding out more about key stakeholder interactions within health systems that initially caught my eye. After ten weeks of Wednesday afternoons on the course, I have to say that it is was time well spent.

I’ll keep it short and simple, and give you my three reasons why taking the course has been so worthwhile for me.

1. Trek it to Geneva

Definitely. Being given an opportunity to travel to Geneva at the end of ten weeks, and see up close how some of the leading international health organisations in the world function is an opportunity not to miss out. Hearing from experts at headquarters and finding out what is it that makes them do what they do, whatever field it may be, is a rare chance – a chance that must be taken if one wants to learn and be constantly inspired. And of course, Geneva is a gorgeous city, and for those who haven’t been to the United Nations headquarters yet – get ready to be awestruck by its beauty, and enthralled by its history. An amalgamation of our learning, coupled with a summer adventure to the beautiful land of the Swiss – you definitely don’t hear us complaining.

2. Practical application 

The WHO has building blocks for a health system – service delivery, health workforce, information, medicines, financing and governance – the cores that allow a system to provide healthcare for a population. This I learnt on the MPH. But I also learnt so much else that makes up this dynamic, interdisciplinary field of public health and global health – epidemiology, statistics, health promotion, behavioural science, health economics, the cores of policy making etc. So much to be taught, but so little time. And how do you ensure everything sticks? This is why the course has been so helpful. Everything that we’ve been taught in the field comes together in the workshops in an eureka moment. Sort of like learning what each piece of the puzzle does and where it could fit, and then putting them together successfully, if you get the gist. We all know chronic diseases are fast becoming the largest challenge in the health world – the course teaches you the statistics, epidemiology, challenges and future directions. And in HSD, you take this one step further and explore what are the implications on stakeholders that come together for healthcare provision, what are the areas of focus and what can be the solutions to contain and sustainably work together to improve chronic disease management at the point of provision right now and in the future? More importantly, you do these via role playing prominent positions within the health ministries and organisations. Putting myself in the shoes of change makers through these role-plays makes my starry-eyed self feel all empowered and ready to change the world. Come on now, who wouldn’t?

3. Problem-based learning

Learning from case-study based workshops is fun. Apart from being a good break from lectures, you are challenged to challenge and be challenged by your peers to think outside the box to identify reasons and present solutions to some of the biggest and current challenges of the world’s healthcare systems. It can be exhausting and not a conventional way of teaching that most international students may be used to, but there is no better way of learning than by putting your heads down together, sparking conversation and exchanging ideas – particularly when these ideas bring fresh and different perspectives together from people from all over the world on the course.


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