Flip’D Blog

Current Challenges in Public Health Pedagogy

by | Feb 22, 2023 | 390X, The Flip'd Blog


Author: Michael P. Huynh

Program in Public Health

Editor: Helen Meskhidze

Editor-in-Chief: Alex Bower

December 20, 2022


The Problem

After being admitted to graduate school in public health, I was excited to learn how career professionals promote health equity in communities and conduct research to inform policy change. However, while we learned about health disparities in my master’s and doctoral classes, we did not explore why these disparities exist. Beyond this gap to understanding equity in our field, I failed to see faculty be held accountable for inclusive teaching practices. As someone pursuing a career in improving community health, this pattern was frustrating to witness. 

To begin addressing these challenges, I propose discussions on allyship, anti-discrimination, and intersectionality during summer programs preceding graduate public health programs, as well as relevant coursework at the graduate and undergraduate level.

Building Community Early with Allyship

One meaningful opportunity in my education was a summer seminar program before the start of my Master of Public Health (MPH) classes. A select number of students, including myself, participated in a four-day seminar with active learning workshops about campus resources, stress management, imposter syndrome, and how our unique backgrounds and identities shape how we see the world and can build community. This community-building extends beyond our bonds with people of shared social identities to include individuals from different backgrounds.

Allyship requires us to recognize the different privileges we may hold and to accept responsibility for changing unjust societal patterns for the better (Djulus et al., 2021). Being cognizant of one’s identity and privilege can streamline the process of community-building with those of different backgrounds and challenge existing health inequities. Further, teaching allyship to early public health professionals can reduce their implicit biases and promote conscious efforts of solidarity to enact change in their future workplaces. Beyond having an optional workshop for first-year MPH students, the next step is to make these programs mandatory, ongoing trainings to strengthen allyship among future public health professionals. 

Applying Anti-Discrimination in Graduate Curriculum Redesign

How can concepts of health equity be better integrated into coursework? Instead of relegating these concepts to elective courses, students suggest having more in-depth education in core classes (Perez et al., 2021). Key to this is adopting a historical perspective of health inequities. While instructors may be hesitant to teach different aspects of discrimination (e.g., racism, sexism, and classism), doing so is necessary to describe why group health disparities exist. Anti-discrimination begins with being comfortable talking about how we can improve the health of marginalized populations in our epidemiology, health policy, and health behavior theory classes. With regards to current events like the COVID-19 pandemic, curricula also need to reflect changing patterns over time.

Understanding Intersectionality in Undergraduate Coursework

Can curriculum change start even sooner than at the graduate level? As students learn about concepts like the social determinants of health, they may mistakenly believe that these factors act in isolation of one another. Intersectionality requires a shift in perspective on how contexts of power, identity, and privilege interact to affect distributions of health. Using different kinds of modules like documentaries, reflection exercises, guided literature reviews, and field activities with community partners can engage undergraduate students to actively map out how race, gender, and class intersect to inform health patterns (Osiecki & Mejia, 2022). Furthermore, it ensures that faculty and students work together to better understand the roots of health disparities.

A Way Forward

Ultimately, integrating allyship, anti-discrimination, and intersectionality in public health pedagogy can better equip students with the experiences and tools to instill greater health equity practices and social justice values into their future work. By promoting active learning, curriculum redesign, and opportunities to directly engage with community partners, we can move beyond abstract thinking of health disparities and take tangible steps toward equitable practices in education and community health. Even for those outside public health education, being able to build community with others, speak up against oppressive practices, and integrate different perspectives are all beneficial to cultivating a more effective learning environment and sense of student belonging.


Djulus, G., Sheikhan, N. Y., Nawaz, E., Burley, J., Thomas-Jacques, T., Naik, H., Warsame, K., Jamil, M., & Banerjee, A. (2021). Advancing Allyship Through Anti-Oppression Workshops for Public Health Students: A Mixed Methods Pilot Evaluation. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 7(4), 304–312. https://doi.org/10.1177/2373379920962410

Osiecki, K. M., & Mejia, A. (2022). Teaching Undergraduate Social Determinants of Health: “Bad” Neighborhoods, “Those” People, and Dispelling the Stereotypical Portrayal of Poor, Urban Communities. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 8(3), 184–191. https://doi.org/10.1177/23733799221092407

Perez, J., Leonard, W. R., Bishop, V., & Neubauer, L. C. (2021). Developing Equity-Focused Education in Academic Public Health: A Multiple-Step Model. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 7(4), 366–371. https://doi.org/10.1177/23733799211045986