Health education enhanced by taking the broad view: Postgraduate study in public health at the University of Tsukuba is enriched by a diverse range of expertise in healthcare
For Perpétue Vincent, the most rewarding feature of the University of Tsukuba’s Master of Public Health Program is the “mosaic of specialties” among its students and teaching and research staff.
“It is very interesting and instructive to have discussions with people of diverse backgrounds — nurses, medical doctors, economists, ecologists and behavioral scientists,” says Vincent, a Haitian doctor with a passion for public health in developing countries, who is currently completing her second year of the course.
That diversity is an essential feature of the program, explains course coordinator, Yukiko Wagatsuma, a professor and department head in the university’s Faculty of Medicine and an expert on child survival and the developmental origins of health.
“A distinctive feature of the course is that students study with experts in public health, as well as in basic and clinical sciences, and thus develop a comprehensive view,” Wagatsuma explains.
The University of Tsukuba’s prestigious and wide-ranging School of Medical Sciences boasts more than 80 faculty members covering a diverse range of specialties; from Wagatsuma’s own work on children’s health to areas such as the aging of the global population, health equity, child welfare and the effects of climate change on health.
The English-language Master of Public Health Program is one of several specialty options available to students at the University of Tsukuba enrolled in the Medical Sciences master’s programs. Each year, the English-language program, which began in 2009, takes in about 15 overseas students, with the costs of their degree paid for by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Students can choose one of two options within the course, based on their academic background, professional experience and future plans. The standard approach takes two years, with the second year devoted mainly to a research project and thesis on an aspect of public health. This is recommended for those thinking of pursuing a PhD in their research project area and is the path chosen by Vincent, whose thesis is on the awareness among Haitian mothers of hypertension during pregnancy.
There is also an accelerated option, which can be completed in one year. Instead of a research thesis, students pursue a special cross-disciplinary written and oral project called the Advanced Exercise on Public Health, which allows students to synthesize theoretical and practical coursework.
The academic coursework in each version is the same, with lessons including human anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, in addition to overviews of clinical and social medicine and public health management and policy. Elective and advanced credit options are also offered in biotechnology, pathology, sports and health, medical welfare, medical information technology and experimental animal sciences.
Vincent enjoys both the interesting coursework and the University of Tsukuba environment, including its mix of people with a variety of interests from around the world, which creates a particularly stimulating social setting. “They say if you throw a stone here, you will hit a PhD,” says Vincent.
But most of all, Tsukuba offers her the opportunity to become a better doctor. “Improving people’s health is a noble task that requires the contribution of many professionals,” she says. “If I want my career to contribute to that great task, then a good understanding of public health is a must.”
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