Category: Community Health, Health Magazine, Teaching & Research

Title:Being an agent of change

Author: By Bhriana Smith
Date Published: June 1, 2022

The Health and Public Interest master’s program, or HAPI, is a recently launched degree track led by Georgetown University Medical Center faculty that focuses on the many societal influences that affect health care.

The one-year degree program is overseen by co-directors Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, a professor of pharmacology and physiology and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, and emeritus professor Adam Myers, PhD, the associate dean for graduate education.

One of a number of interdisciplinary programs developed by Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, HAPI originated when Norberto Grzywacz, PhD, the previous dean at the graduate school, asked Fugh-Berman to develop a degree track that “promotes interdisciplinary work and thinking that addressed real social problems,” says Myers.

Fugh-Berman and Myers worked with 11 other Georgetown faculty, and created a program with course topics ranging from cultural psychology to public policy, epidemiology to economics, business communications to health advocacy.

“We are particularly interested in non-medical influences on health,” Fugh-Berman adds.

One of the benefits of interdisciplinary study in medicine is that it affords a better understanding of the brighter picture: what makes people healthy, what promotes healthy living. Social psychology—the study of how and in what ways people’s perceptions and actions are influenced by environmental factors, such as social interaction—is one example of a field of study that can have a major impact on understanding determinants of health and improving the health care system.

“Social psychology is important for understanding influences on prescribers and on consumers,” explains Fugh- Berman. “Pharmaceutical companies and other players in the health care industry know this, and they use social psychology to manipulate people’s choices. Without some understanding of social psychology and marketing tactics, it would be difficult to separate corporate messages from objective health information.”

Ultimately, the HAPI master’s program focuses on training students to be advocates for a better health care Fugh-Berman and Myers, the HAPI program co-directors, believe that interdisciplinary study will help students make a difference as doctors.

system. Looking beyond medicine, drugs, and hospitals, it considers how matters such as education, cultural background, aging, and marketing affect health and health care.

While working toward their degree, students are making an impact in their communities. “We have students who come into the program and, in their first semester, complete projects that illustrate that they can make a difference, for example, in how the city deals with health problems,” says Myers. “Several groups of students have published articles in national newspapers.”

“People grow up being told that they can make a difference, but then somehow that notion gets pushed to the side as they get older,” adds Myers. “What we try to do is tell people: you can be an agent of change. You can make a difference.”

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