Interview with Robert Buckingham, Laurent Chambaud and Andres Roman

A triple interview on the future of Public Health Training in Europe: insights from Robert Buckingham, Laurent Chambaud and Andres Romanaspher

We, young people, always found it hard to apply our knowledge into practice. What practical advices can you share with us?
RB: Trainings, trainings, trainings. And take advantage of internships to get practical expertise. In North America people pursuing an MPH must write a practicum, which is not only a thesis, but really a hands-on exercise. Use all these opportunities to go beyond the degree and to develop your practical skills.
LC: And don’t forget that you can always come back to the university. Within ASPHER we are very interested in CPD (continuos professional development), which means exactly that you leave the university and go into real life, and you come back to university later on, with your “real life” experience.
AR: I want to share my experience with you: I am a medical doctor, psychiatrist by training. I had been practicing clinical medicine for a few years when I realized I wanted to move to public health. That was not what I studied for. But through trainings and practical experiences I decided how to direct myself.

Bridging gaps between researchers and policy makers: how can we, the young professionals, help in this process?
RB: This is quite easily done at the local level. Through the University of Michigan, we have structured many interventions, especially in Tanzania, Thailand, and Honduras. There, we did run practical interventions and we collected data to inform and influence future interventions.
AR: I think it’s a bit simplistic to have researchers, policy makers and the gap in between. We have practitioners, we have the communities, we have so many other stakeholders! And the policy process, which should involve all stakeholders, it’s not limited to public health, but it applies to any single aspect of our lives. We should be able to see different stakeholders, different needs, and to facilitate the communication.
LC: Indeed, public health is not a discipline, it’s where different interests cross and meet each other. We should be aware of it. As schools of public health, we should have in place good faculties. And we should engage in teaching you one main skill: how to manage changes. I studied epidemiology some years ago, and the availability of big data is one of the biggest “disruptions” in my field: we should give our students and young professionals the ability to face changes, and to survive in them. The technological revolution will change health needs and health systems: you will be the ones handling the change!

In your view, the job market is more open to health professionals with a general background or to those with a highly specialized view?
LC: Public health is done at international, national, regional and local level. To me, this is the beauty of public health, and the expertise you develop also relates to the level in which you work. Keep trying and taking on challenges, also at different levels! Of course, if you want to be a researcher, then you need to specialize. Otherwise, it’s really a matter of what you like and what you want to do.
AR: Job flexibility characterizes our current job market. I would not limit myself to one or few options. I would rather align myself towards what I like.
RB: After they finish their MPH, there are 6 work positions for every public health professional in North America. I believe you should be more oriented towards what you like than towards what is available. And keep in mind that you need to think about a decent work-life balance, whatever choice you make!

Public health and medical doctors. What is the nexus here? Can somebody without medical background be a good public health professional?
RB: Of course! In North America, 40% of public health professionals are physicians, 60% are not!
LC: But let’s not be naive. We are a panel of three, and we are all medical doctors. As medical doctors, we have a lot of power, we are visible, we are perceived as knowledgable people by the public. That’s why we should ask more to public health physicians, to make public health more visible. Medical doctors are in the position to create public health leadership.
AR: On the concept of leadership in public health: let’s be clear that leadership doesn’t mean being in a high and leading position. Leadership means serving the others, being good professionals, and taking on the role of the leader when needed!

A last advice to the Young Gasteiners?
LC: If you are still in a school, challenge your school. Say what you need and advocate for it!
RB: When you choose, make an informed choice. For instance, if you want to obtain a degree from a public health institution in the United States, you try to go for the schools with highest quality in public health (John Hopkins, Harvard TH Chan School, University of Michigan, North Carolina Institute of Public Health, Berkeley, Yale University). Also, you try to get informed on your advisors, especially if you want to pursue a PhD: you might want to have few (Skype) meetings with your boss and colleagues before you commit some years of your life to working with these people!
AR: Get practical. And go for things that fascinate you!

This interview was conducted at the EHFG Conference 2016 by the Young Gasteiner Alessandra Lafranconia

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