Princeton’s University Global Health Program: Research and teaching at the nexus of science, policy and social science

Author(s) Kristina Graff1, Peter Locke2
Affiliation(s) 1Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, United States, 2Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, United States, 3.
Country - ies of focus Global
Relevant to the conference tracks Education and Research
Summary Princeton University’s Global Health Research and Teaching Program is anchored in the philosophy that complex problems demand a comprehensive and integrated approach, in which players from a range of academic and technical areas collaborate to analyze global health problems and explore innovative solutions. Princeton’s Global Health Program generates the scholarship fundamental to health improvements at the nexus of science, policy and social science, and educates students who will become leaders in these fields. Its defining elements are a cross-disciplinary approach, hands-on field research and a focus on the policy dimensions of global health.
What challenges does your project address and why is it of importance? Global health challenges go far beyond clinical issues. These problems are rooted in economic, social and political forces, geographical and logistical hurdles as well as the dynamic impacts of globalization and governance. Solutions to global health problems demand an interdisciplinary response –one that integrates the expertise and perspectives of a range of sectors and specialties. A holistic approach to global health looks beyond what medicine alone can achieve and addresses all the elements that contribute to improved wellbeing, ranging from population and system-based interventions to an understanding of how broad public health initiatives affect individual lives.
Princeton University’s Global Health Program is anchored in the philosophy that complex problems demand a comprehensive and integrated approach, in which players from a range of academic and technical areas collaborate to analyze global health problems and explore innovative solutions. Princeton’s Global Health Program generates the scholarship fundamental to health improvements at the nexus of science, policy and social science, and educates students who will become leaders in these fields. Its defining elements are a cross-disciplinary approach, hands-on field research and a focus on the policy dimensions of global health.
How have you addressed these challenges? Do you see a solution? Princeton’s Global Health Program operates integrated research and teaching initiatives that span the breadth of faculty expertise. The global health program supports a multi-disciplinary research agenda and curriculum bridging engineering, the humanities, and the social and natural sciences.The University sponsors innovative and exploratory research, which is scaled up to draw external grants. Faculty lead projects that engage undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral researchers. They extend into the classroom and into students’ research and internships.The global health program also supports students’ internships and research in laboratories and field sites around the globe, academic and public events, and student participation in external conferences. This program model simultaneously fuels research and teaching in key areas of global health.A key program focus is on high-quality, hands-on learning. Students conduct research and internships in 20+ countries, based at research centers, NGOs and grassroots organizations, academic institutions, hospitals and clinics. Junior researchers mentor many student projects, providing training in topics such as technical methods for research and analysis, to the ethics and principles of sound and responsible global health research. These field experiences are life changing for many students and form the basis of their future pursuits in domestic and global health.A final critical factor in the success of Princeton’s global health program is a strong and longstanding partnership with the institutions where students and faculty conduct research. Solid institutional relationships allow for regular exchanges, high-quality research, expanded opportunities for collaborative projects and more efficient administration. Two key governing principles for the program’s collaborations are reciprocity and on-site advising by Princeton researchers based in the field. Princeton hosts faculty members and graduate students from partner institutions for varying periods of time. Postdoctoral fellows have proven highly effective as on-site research coordinators and advisors.

By centering its research and teaching activities on interdisciplinary and integrated principles, Princeton’s global health program facilitates cross-departmental engagement of faculty and prepares students to address the increasingly complex slate of global health challenges.

How do you know whether you have made a difference? The Princeton Global Health Program tracks the impact of its research and teaching programs over time, and it also devotes ongoing attention to ensuring that its international partnerships are mutually beneficial. For research we monitor how the work is scaled up into larger programs, published in academic and other journals, and translated into policy and practice changes. We do this through reporting by recipients of internal grants and through tracking global health faculty member’s work.For teaching we follow the threads of students’ academic progress over multiple years and then track their career trajectories once they graduate. We do this through a combination of quantitative measures (number and proportion of global health students who pursue related graduate study and careers) and qualitative data (asking students over time how their experience in Princeton’s global health program shaped their understanding of global health issues and the evolution of their careers). We also link current students to program alumni, in order to create an informal network for advising and guidance.For international partnerships we work with our collaborating institutions to identify mutually beneficial projects at the start of our cooperative efforts. We also commit to a true exchange, whereby our partner institutions can send faculty or graduate students to Princeton for periods of research or study. We communicate frequently to keep things running smoothly, set agreements about use of data and publications resulting from the collaboration, send as many field-based researchers to our partner sites as possible, and conduct periodic site visits for monitoring and relationship management.
Have you or the project mobilized others and if so, who, why and how? The international partnerships have resulted in a range of studies, projects and grants to address global health challenges around the world. Some of these have been the result of student projects that were designed to address pressing issues facing a particular partner institution. Princeton’s participants were called upon to address the economic, social, cultural and logistical factors affecting health care access and overall wellbeing. One example is Princeton’s global health program partnership with Wellbody Alliance, a community-based healthcare organization in rural Sierra Leone. Under the supervision of a global health program postdoctoral fellow, Princeton students conduct summer field research focused on helping Wellbody to better understand community needs and evaluate the impact of its services.Based on a student’s project analyzing barriers to tuberculosis (TB) treatment adherence, Wellbody applied for and received a grant from the World Health Organization’s STOP-TB Partnership to implement an innovative district-wide home-based TB screening and treatment system. As part of this project, Wellbody Alliance has hired and trained 150 community health workers, upgraded laboratory and administrative capacity, and secured additional medication needed to treat hundreds of new TB patients. All patients diagnosed with TB in Kono District are now assigned a Wellbody Alliance community health worker who visits patients in their homes to administer medication and evaluate their progress. Additionally, community health workers offer early testing and treatment to high-risk individuals, saving lives and preventing others from becoming infected.In the summer of 2013, students returned to support and evaluate the implementation of the program by accompanying supervisors and health workers as they carried out their duties in the community. Their findings will be essential to identifying and overcoming unexpected challenges in the field and to facilitating the renewal of the WHO grant beyond the first year.
When your donor funding runs out how will your idea continue to live? In the research dimension, the University’s initial investment in global health research is being translated into support from external donors whose primary agenda is to further these lines of inquiry. The research projects will then ultimately become a self-sustaining entity. The program also maintains endowed funds so that there will always be avenues to seed innovative ideas and projects until they can be scaled up for broader external funding. In the teaching dimension, the philosophy of Princeton’s global health program is present in the University’s core educational curriculum. Therefore the program and its guiding principles will remain at the center of all pedagogical initiatives as ongoing and standard academic offerings.In its international collaborations, these costs will ultimately be moved from the category of “special initiatives” over to a standard part of normal program operations, so that they become part and parcel of global health partnerships – both at Princeton and within its partner institutions. When the partnerships prove to be mutually beneficial they can then merit a spot as an essential element of both collaborators’ regular operating budgets.

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