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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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New Masters in Public Health approved

The University’s Research School of Public Health has just received CUAP approval to offer a Master in Public Health programme.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Judith Kinnear describes the new programme as a “very exciting development” for”the University, and quite different from existing public health programmes presently offered by Otago and Auckland universities. “We have done our homework and established that, amongst public health professionals, there is a strong demand for this new degree.”

Centre for Public Heath Research director Professor Neil Pearce says the innovative programme will provide a unique opportunity for shared learning by health professionals, policy makers and researchers from diverse backgrounds in the health sector, ultimately benefiting the health of all New Zealanders. The points of difference will be a major advantage.

“Internationally, the basic qualification for working in public health is a Master of Public Health degree, normally taught within one of the many schools of public health around the world,” says Professor Pearce.

“Until now, New Zealand has been in the unusual situation where public health has only been taught in medical schools, which have a natural orientation towards teaching medical students. While the existing public health courses are quite good, they’re inevitably influenced by the fact that they’re taught in departments established for a different purpose with a different orientation.”

He says the Massey programme will gain added weight because it can draw on the strengths of the wider University, providing a more balanced approach. It will be applied and multi-disciplinary, with a strong emphasis on health policy implications and on research. It will also have a strong Mäori and Pacific focus, particularly with the involvement of Professor Mason Durie and Dr Chris Cunningham.

“We’re hoping to attract a quite different set of students, particularly Mäori and Pacific Island students,” he says. “And the strong applied focus is likely to attract health professionals now working in District Health Boards, in the Ministry of Health, and other Government departments and ministries, who can do the course part time.”

Professor Pearce says students will probably already have degrees in fields such as medicine, nursing, midwifery, Mäori studies, social science, psychology, statistics, environmental sciences, or biological sciences. A key feature will be the compulsory research project. “Many will choose a project related to their work, so these results will in turn feed back to those on the front line and further strengthen our ties within the health sector.”

While at least six core papers for the MPH will be established for the programme, more than 20 other relevant papers are already on offer across the Wellington, Palmerston North and Albany campuses. “This demonstrates the advantages of establishing such a programme within a general university.”

The new courses will initially be offered at Wellington but the overall programme will involve all of the University-wide centres of the RSPH (the SHORE Centre and Whariki, Te Pümanawa Hauora, the Centre for Public Health Research, and the Sleep/Wake Research Centre) in teaching, research  and thesis supervision. While the new core courses will be first offered in 2005, some thesis students may begin next year.

The proposal has already been endorsed by public health specialists in 50 leading international universities and schools of public health, including those at the University of California, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, the US National Cancer Institute, Boston University, McGill University, Kings College (London), Monash University and the University of Hawaii.

“Many have said they would like to cooperate by exchanging students and being involved as guest lecturers. We see this as an international course, of particular relevance to many Pacific nations.”

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