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Duke offers new undergraduate Health Policy Certificate

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Beginning this semester, undergraduate students will be able to pursue a Health Policy Certificate, which examines healthcare, economics, society and government aspects of health policy. 

A collaboration between the Margolis Center for Health Policy and the Sanford School of Public Policy, the undergraduate certificate is geared toward students interested in health policy, especially non-public policy majors who hope to study the intersection between health and governance in more depth. 

Nathan Boucher, faculty director for the certificate, associate research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, and faculty member at Duke-Margolis, hopes that the program will give students a “foot forward in the health policy arena” by providing relevant coursework and experiences. 

Students are required to take an introductory course, a capstone course, and two electives from a list of approved classes. They are also required to complete two health policy-related experiential learning activities: a 150-hour learning experience and a 300-hour learning experience. The activities can take the form of internships, service learning and research. The certificate also requires a public-facing e-portfolio that showcases each student’s health policy scholarship through the certificate experience. 

The Health Policy Certificate was developed in its early stages by the Student Collaborative on Health Policy, an undergraduate organization that seeks to expand opportunities for students in the health policy field. 

During the summer of 2020, five members of SCOHP’s education subcommittee began putting together a proposal for a certificate. 

“We were interested in some kind of academic offering for health policy, especially since a lot of students do a Program II or stick to Public Policy or Global Health to get that experience,” said senior Devan Desai, co-chair of the Health Policy Education Committee.

SCOHP also conducted polls of students on campus, which revealed strong student interest in a potential certificate. 

SCOHP worked during the fall of 2020 to identify potential classes and design a capstone. From there, the proposal was sent to Margolis, which partnered with Sanford to make the certificate a reality.

Faculty from Sanford and Margolis collaborated to refine it before submitting it to Duke for consideration. The curriculum went through several iterations to ensure that it was compatible with the academic niches of the involved Sanford and Margolis faculty.

”We really had to make sure that this was a fifty-fifty collaboration between two organizations,”  Boucher said. 

Faculty concerns when the certificate was proposed to the Arts & Sciences Council in April included skepticism that it would not be distinct enough from pursuing the public policy major with a focus on health policy, or independently pursuing classes and opportunities related to health policy. Despite these concerns, the vote to approve the certificate program at the next meeting passed with an overwhelming majority.

Boucher is confident that participating students will be able to engage in broader discussions surrounding health policy, including related issues like housing and nutrition.

“Having the health policy grounding will just make you more fluid as a team member approaching these complex healthcare issues, with healthcare being the most politicized issue in America today,” he said.

Desai believes the health policy certificate will benefit students by teaching them to view healthcare issues through an interdisciplinary lens. 

“I think the Health Policy Certificate is very important in that it teaches a student to look at someone who might have a health condition or to look at a health issue somewhere that's taking place and to really tackle that by using different perspectives,” he said. 

SCOHP continues to be involved with the certificate as it launches this fall. Two of the five original subcommittee members sit on the program’s advisory committee, and they have continued their efforts to integrate health policy into the undergraduate curriculum. Currently, they are working on spreading awareness of the certificate to the student body. 

The certificate is open to second-semester first-year students, sophomores, and first-semester juniors in any field of study. 

Desai is hopeful the certificate will benefit both current and future students for years to come. 

“It is almost bittersweet that [seniors who worked on creating the certificate] can't take advantage of it, but I'm just personally really glad that future years of Duke will have the opportunity to do so,” he said.

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