“Students can do it on their time, when they can concentrate on the subject more,” said Dr. Kathleen Brady, vice chancellor for institutional research and teaches Special Topics in Public Health online.
“They can do it during their ‘me’ time and when it fits in to their schedule.”
Brady said the class encompasses topics such as food deserts, tobacco policies, the obesity epidemic, impact of the built environment on health, and controversies surrounding vaccinations.
When Brady first began teaching the course online, and to students throughout the state, she worried that the discussion that these topics often spark might be lost in cyberspace.
“I always liked the face-to-face interaction,” Brady said. “So the challenge was to find material that would be engaging online.”
Brady said she has found that students are more engaged with each other and with her via a discussion board.
“These topics resonate with people,” Brady said. “I ask my students to respond to the questions posted on the discussion board once. But what I find is they respond 10 or 12 times. They begin discussing the topic with each other. They begin to share their personal viewpoints and at times, they even provide links to other articles to back up their point of view.”
Brady said it’s interesting to watch the conversation emerge, as most of the students in the class have worked as nurses for a number of years.
“For years, we have pushed patient education as the driver of health outcomes,” Brady said. “If you have someone with high blood pressure, the common practice at a doctor’s office would be to provide information on how the patient could change their diet and incorporate exercise. One thing that is never discussed is why doing those things could be a challenge for the patient.”
Brady said that’s where the class brings in the discussion of socioeconomic status and how and where a person lives as key indicators for overall health – does the patient have access to healthy food options, a place to exercise or the resources to support a change in lifestyle?
“Patient education isn’t enough. We have to start listening to the patient,” Brady said. “If we are telling them to exercise 20 minutes a day and they are working two jobs that 20 minutes may be the time they are spending with their child or relaxing after a long day.”
Brady said she hopes that students already working in a clinical atmosphere will begin to look at the global issues surrounding a patient’s health, rather than just labeling them as “noncompliant,” in achieving better health.
“This course requires them to think,” Brady said. “I think it helps them to return to their jobs with a better understanding of the challenges that their patients face.”
Brady said she requires a critique after each weekly assignment and asks four or five questions of class members. Her goal is to return those critiques within a one-week period. Brady said that helps her to continue to mold and shape the class, as well as to provide feedback to students.
“One of my students ran for city council after looking at her community and realizing that there were areas in her town that were food deserts,” Brady said. “Public health hits home and that’s exciting to see. When people start surveying their own cities, there’s added value in the discussions we are having in class.”