Cross-Country Collaborations: A Professor's Experience as a WHO InstructorBy Maaha Rafique
Janet Hart helped plan and teach a course for international public health leaders.
Janet Hart, MA, PhD, was born in California, but over her long career in the biological sciences and public health, she’s formed a special connection to a country far from home: France.
Hart, who teaches courses in both undergraduate and graduate programs in the School of Arts & Sciences at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), received her PhD in Paris, where her youngest child was born. Last year, a sabbatical in France led her to an exciting opportunity. She was part of the curriculum planning and teaching faculty for a World Health Organization (WHO) Public Health Leadership Course.
“I've developed different types of publications related to teaching and active, problem-based learning through case studies, and this was the expertise I was asked to contribute to the course,” Hart said.
During her 2023 sabbatical in Southwest France, Hart engaged in research and teaching projects at the University of Bordeaux. There, she met Genevieve Chene, the former national director of the French Public Health Agency, who invited her to be an instructor for a course she was organizing on behalf of the WHO. With a long teaching career and a substantial body of scholarly work dealing with pedagogical principles, Hart jumped at the chance.
Participants in the course hailed from 35 countries across Central Asia, Europe, and Africa. Hart was one of the instructors and said being part of the course was a “huge honor.” It ran for two weeks in November and considered challenges and lessons learned from the pandemic to help attendees strengthen leadership skills and think innovatively to solve public health issues. Hart conducted the course remotely, engaging her students, including those in the Master of Public Health program at MCPHS, in course ideas and goals as she taught.
“I got to learn from and connect with top officials for public health all over Europe and parts of the Middle East and Africa. We've had such a hard time the last few years — everybody felt so isolated and worried during the pandemic. So, my sabbatical and this opportunity has really re-energized my career in major ways,” she said.
Hart helped create frameworks for attendees to problem solve various case studies based on six WHO priorities: climate change, digital public health, arterial hypertension, misinformation during health crises, disease prevention, and health equity. During the two weeks of the course, attendees split into smaller groups to discuss case studies. Hart was part of the committee preparing and reviewing them for the course. It was a process of active learning similar to the methods she uses in her classes at MCPHS, where her students learn through activities like case studies, educational games, and even creating social media posts to correct common misconceptions about diseases of public health importance.
“We discussed a lot of interesting ideas around the six priorities, and I can bring those into the classroom so students can engage with the things that we know they’re going to face when they graduate — whether they go off to a health professions program, get a Master's in public health, or go directly into a career,” Hart said.
Asked what she thinks the United States and other countries can do better to address public health issues, Hart pointed to the effectiveness of cross-disciplinary collaboration between individuals and nations, and a prevention-first mindset.
“In public health, the foundation is always prevention, which is the cheapest way to try to reduce suffering in the world. So, getting back to that idea in the course — prevention as the heart of public health — was encouraging,” she added.
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