The Core curriculum, taken by all incoming students in their first semester, consists of five broad areas of study, known as “studios.” These studios, which are broken down into 18 modules, build one upon the next to provide the broad, interlocking foundation of knowledge needed for a career in public health.
You and a cohort of 100 peers will move together through the Core during your first semester. Our faculty will help you make connections across the five studios by exploring such overarching questions as: What factors underlie the patterns of disease and premature death in the U.S. and globally? What role is played by environmental factors? What accounts for health disparities within nations and around the world? What values come into play in designing interventions to prevent illness and systems to promote health?
A quick look at the five studios that comprise the Columbia Core:
- Foundations of Public Health begins with modules that examine public health history, ethics, and health and human rights. The studio serves as a stepping stone for understanding patterns of health disparities and domestic and international policy.
Modules: Ethics, History, Human Rights
- Biological & Environmental Determinants of Health examines the fundamental biological concepts and environmental factors that impact health status.
Modules: Biological Basis, Environmental Determinants of Human Health
- Social, Behavioral, & Structural Determinants of Health probes key influences on human health, including globalization and aging. Coursework on reproduction and sexuality is also part of this studio.
Modules: Globalization, Health and Behavior, Life Course, Maternal, Reproductive, & Sexual Health, Social Determinants
- Health Systems delves into the workings of the U.S. healthcare system and that of other nations, comparing and contrasting them. This studio includes modules on health economics and healthcare systems throughout the world.
Modules: Comparative Health, Health Economics, U.S. Public Health and Healthcare Systems
- Research Methods provides skills in biostatistics, epidemiology, qualitative research methods, study design, and systems thinking—all essential to conducting research in public health—and introduces students to the process of designing and evaluating public health programs.
Modules: Evidence, Policy, & Decision Making, Program Planning, Quantitative Foundations, Qualitative Foundations, Systems Thinking
The Mailman School's core curriculum meets the Association of Schools of Public Health requirement that all MPH graduates receive training in the foundations of public health.
History of Public Health
This course will provide students with a narrative explaining the development of the field over the past two centuries and a conceptual framework for analyzing public health practice more broadly. Coursework will locate the origins of sustained public health practice in industrial-era Europe and America. In addition, the course will explore the ways in which the changing social, political, and economic structure reshaped patterns of disease and the ways in which reformers sought to explain and address those patterns, with a focus on race, class, and the environment. The rise of the state and debates about the use of governmental authority, as well as the tension between and science and action, represent another major theme. The course will trace the ways in which these themes and ideas about the structural determinants of disease played out in different contexts spanning the 20th century. The emphasis will be on the domestic front, but we will make linkages to the developing world.
Ethics of Public Health
The goal of this module is to introduce students to the normative foundations of public health in the United States. To set the stage for the roles of public health law and ethics students will learn about the emergence of bioethics as a normative challenge to the practice of medicine and the conduct of research. Students will then learn about the fundamental constitutional principles that shape the practice of public health law and to examine the relationship between those principles and the field of public health ethics.
The class examines the impact on public health ethics of classic figures and contemporary foundational authors. Starting with the utilitarian principle that it is the duty of public health to promote health, protect against infectious diseases and environmental threats, and to provide access to needed medical care, the course will focus on principles of justice, autonomy, paternalism and privacy and the ways in which they serve to inform public health practice.
Biological Basis of Public Health
In order to be able to fully comprehend the field of public health there, are several underlying biological concepts that you need to recognize. This course in meant to give students a basic knowledge of a few major concepts that are of general relevance to public health but also specifically to provide the foundation for material covered in other core modules in the fall semester. Topics will include genetics, bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, chronic diseases, the nervous system, reproduction and fetal development.
The overall objective of this module is that students develop a practical idea of human rights-based approaches to public health and be able to apply and analyze that idea with respect to several public health challenges. Building to that objective, some provisions of formal legal instruments of human rights and humanitarian law will be presented, as well as notions such as participation, accountability, and equitable access to services that have less formal legal grounding but are crucial for rights-based approaches. Case examples of health-related human rights challenges will illustrate rights-based assessment and analysis, including both current challenges and challenges from key moments in the history of health and human rights. The module is global in scope.
Logic of Inquiry
This course will cover the basic components of scientific logic that underlie most public health programming. These issues will include the distinctions and innate limitations of information and the basic criteria considered in evaluating the validity of information. We also examine the various sources of disagreement and uncertainty in science. The course will discuss different perspectives on what constitutes scientific inquiry (versus other ways of knowing), the norms of science, and the roles of paradigms in shaping the evolution of science. We will distinguish between the broadly used labels of qualitative and quantitative information and describe the factors limiting the validity and interpretability of information. Additionally, students will learn to explain different sources of uncertainty in the results of scientific inquiry, and lack of consensus among scientists.
Environmental Determinants of Human Health
This is largely a lecture-based course, aimed at exposing students to the basic principles of environmental health sciences. Topics will include defining environmental toxicants, explaining how individuals are exposed and extrapolating to the relevant health consequences of specific exposures. The course will enable students to give examples of the major health issues that stem from various exposures such as air pollution and lung disease, sun exposure and cancer, pesticide use and fetal development and lead exposure and children's intelligence. The course will give students an appreciation for which populations are at risk, how studies are carried out in environmental health, and how study findings are used to inform environmental policy decisions.
Globalization and Global Health provides an overview of the field of global health and the key contributions of public health in relation to this field. It is structured in three major units. The first of these units, on Global Transformations and Global Health, provides a broad historical overview of the shifting paradigms that over time have shaped the development of tropical medicine, international health, and, most recently, global health. The second unit, on The Global Burden of Disease and Key Global Health Priorities, focuses on analyzing the frameworks and methods that have been developed for comparative understanding of the global Burden of Disease, and assessing trends in relation to key global health risks. The third unit, on Global Health Governance, analyzes the changing architecture of global health governance. It provides an overview of the key governmental actors and analyzes the changing policy and legal context of the field of global health.
Maternal, Reproductive, and Sexual Health
This course presents a sequence of three units. The first covers maternal and infant health, both as a core concern of public health and as an example of how approaches to improving health at the population level have developed over the past century. The unit will draw on and integrate material presented in previous modules on perinatal risks and influences, including infant mortality, to put that material in the broader context so students can see how biological and social factors intertwine to shape the relative safety or danger of reproduction.
The second unit, Regulating Reproduction, echoes the emphasis on how public health has changed by presenting two contrasting moments: the era of Population Control, and the post-Cairo focus on reproductive health. In the third unit, the module looks ahead to two domains that are likely to continue to grow in importance: the notion of sexual health as an element of population health, and rights-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health.
Health and Behavior
Understanding why people behave the way they do, what makes them change their behavior, and how these factors relate to health status and quality of life is critically important for public health professionals. This module provides an overview of dominant theories used to explain individual-level determinants of health-related behaviors. More specifically, the module explores commonly used theories within public health practice, as well as new and emerging theories that have garnered attention within public health research.
The goals of the module are to provide students with a core foundation of health behavior theories used by public health researchers and practitioners; to enable students to critically examine these theories, the historical contexts out of which they emerged, and the ways in which they have been appraised within contemporary public health research; and to present new and emerging theories of health behavior that have shown promise in public health research.
In this course, students will learn how lifecourse approaches have emerged in public health, how health varies within and across the stages of the life course, and how an understanding of this variation improves public health policies and programs. They will learn how different perspectives (e.g. chronological, social, biological, developmental) lead us to characterize the lifecourse and its stages in different ways. Both the immediate impact and latent impact of specific lifecourse exposures will be examined; differential mortality and morbidity across the lifespan will be emphasized.
Students will learn to differentiate between population age structure and longevity and how to compare them across countries. The course will emphasize throughout the importance of context in shaping health across the life course as well as individual rights and responsibilities across the life course. It will also emphasize the practical implications for public health policies and programs.
What are the social, economic, and political dimensions of health? This course will focus on the ways in which health and illness are determined by broad social, economic, and political determinants. To do this, the course will start by discussing the history of the study of social determinants and its core role in public health scholarship. The central focus of the course will be an exposition of, and discussion about, the evidence related to how issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, mental illness, migration, and "place" act are associated with health.
In addition, this course will familiarize students with key ongoing discussions in the literature related to the social determinants of health and with promising areas of new scholarship in the field. The course will also include discussion of ethical orientation to social inequalities in health and debates on intervention and social policy.
Governments play a large role in health care; economics is a powerful tool to analyze such regulation. In this module, students will look at health from an economic perspective, which offers unique insights into the determinants of health and the functioning of the health care system. Students will learn about concepts such as scarcity, opportunity cost, individual choice, decentralization, efficiency and equality, externalities and public goods. The course will prepare students to understand the varied components of health care costs, major economic theories of health insurance, models of investments in health, and issues of health behavior and choice.
Whether a nation is rich, middle-income, or poor, the basic ways that improvements in health and longevity are tackled are similar. Yet health care delivery is often radically different from country to country. This course will delve into how different countries structure and finance their health care delivery systems. By health care system, we mean all activities whose primary purpose is to improve health with a focus on the delivery of individual medical services. We will use a handful of high-, middle-, and low-income countries as case studies. It will also ask how different systems emphasize varied approaches to insuring their citizens against the costs of illness, providing basic and advanced health services to people in need, and ensuring quality and safety of health care. Lastly the course will look at the role of political leadership and governance of health care systems in high-income, middle-income and low-income countries.
Program Planning, Design, & Evaluation
Many health programs fail because of inadequate use of comprehensive and coordinated program planning, implementation and evaluation. This course examines principles, methods and practices in planning and evaluating public health programs. Students will learn to differentiate among key planning and evaluation concepts and discuss the roles of stakeholders in the process.
The course will provide an introduction to using logic models to identify key constructs and variables to be measured for evaluation; incorporating cause-and-effect theory and technical and experiential evidence into programming decisions; choosing appropriate types of evaluation to fit the research question; understanding the impact of evaluation design on internal and external validity; and identifying new approaches to evaluation that seek to maximize the translation of findings into public health practice.
U.S. Public Health and Health Care Systems: Law, Politics, and Policy
This module is designed to give students a basic understanding of the U.S. health care system. What are the historical roots of the system? How is the system organized? Who pays the health care bill? What role does government play (and how do different levels of government share these tasks)? What best explains the politics of health reform? How will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted in March 2010, impact the uninsured, the effort to contain health care costs, and the effort to improve the quality and efficiency of the American health care system? How does the US health care system compare with its industrialized counterparts around the world?
Evidence, Policy & Decision Making
What roles do scientists play in public policy debates, and what role can they play? Evidence, Policy, and Decision Making provides an overview of how and when evidence informs decision making in health policy, and perspectives on how it should. We discuss how scientists and scientific evidence interact with the political, bureaucratic, and social environments in which policy decisions are made, and different perspectives on how they should. In addition to conceptual discussions, the course draws on case studies of current and historical policy debates in public health.
This course will provide an integrated approach to the disciplines of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. The lens or motivating idea for the material in this course will be Systems Thinking. First year MPH students will be presented with a public health (as compared to a medical/individual level) model of interventions and health; that each phenomenon is related to a web of interconnected elements, at the genetic, individual, family, neighborhood, community, environmental, governmental, and societal levels, each with dynamic feedback mechanisms.
If Public Health is not a simple, reactive, "take the pill three times a day" solution, but a purposeful approach to preventing disease and promoting health, then being able to document, measure and understand all the ripple effects becomes imperative. Quantitative methods provide some of the tools necessary to help understand the complex and dynamic web of systems in Public Health.
This short module is designed to introduce students to the purposes, applications, strengths and limitations of the qualitative methodological paradigm in public health research, including its use in conjunction with quantitative methods. After reviewing research questions suitable to this approach, various strategies and data collection methods for generating qualitative data will be assessed, including guidelines for crafting of open-ended questions. In response to a research question, students will identify key components of qualitative study design and create a structured topic guide for use in a hypothetical focus group study. Approaches to qualitative data analysis will be introduced.
Much if not most disease causation is multifactorial, nonlinear and dynamic; evidence based interventions to address public health problems are seldom grounded in complex real-world settings. Addressing this complexity requires a level of public health thinking that acknowledges the nonlinear and dynamic nature of public health problems, and that interrogates the process of problem formulation, knowledge generation, analysis, integration and dissemination.
This module will introduce systems thinking as a means of evaluating the complex systems interactions causing disease, and a systems approach to identifying and implementing appropriate policy and interventions to addressing public health issues over time. We will examine the origins and current discipline of systems thinking, discuss the rationale for adopting a systems approach, engage with systems thinking tools including systems dynamic models and identify the challenges to adopting a systems approach in the current public health climate.