IPE event studies lessons of Gotham

By Sally Crocker

Incoming School of Public Health graduate students learned how one of the country’s most important and controversial public health campaigns produced ground-breaking results in New York City.

The Interprofessional Education and Practice (IPE) exercise studied lessons from Saving Gotham: A Billionaire Mayor, Activist Doctors, and the Fight for Eight Million Lives, the bestselling book that described the positive impact of sweeping 2002 public health initiatives by the city’s new health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden.

With the support of then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Dr. Frieden ambitiously tackled smoking in bars, outlawed trans fats in restaurants and lobbied to set limits on the size of soda drinks, among other efforts to encourage healthier eating and lifestyles.

While the initiatives drew criticism, by 2011 the results were clear: 450,000 people had quit smoking, childhood obesity rates were falling, and life expectancy was growing.

Lessons from the book were used to provide students in this IPE exercise with an example of the broad, defining principles of public health and the different pros and cons involved in leading a city to positive public health outcomes.

Students worked in groups with SPH faculty and staff to identify how different influences can contribute to or challenge public health initiatives. Second-year SPH graduate students also served as event co-facilitators, using their experiences from 2016-17 IPE activities to help inform the roundtable conversations.

IPE provides an opportunity for students to work together in a collaborative setting as they learn from real-world examples and case studies, sharing ideas, gaining perspective from others and outlining solutions for healthier communities.

In addition to the roles, responsibilities and abilities of public health and health administration professions, students in this exercise looked at the issues impacting collaboration among a diverse public when goals may not always be the same, funding may not be available, and politics, special interests and personal values may differ.

“This showed me that public health is not a single issue,” said graduate research assistant Brandon Hoff, “and that collaboration is key as we step into this field.”

In the spring, the book’s author, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, who succeeded Dr. Frieden as health commissioner and continued the efforts to transform the city’s health, will Skype with SPH students and faculty to further discuss the book and its important takeaways.

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