Stanford’s new Center for Health Education could benefit learners worldwide

Stanford seeks to improve global health through a new online medical training initiative for people of all skill levels.

Charles Prober is the founding director of Stanford's new Center for Health Education.
Norbert von der Groeben

Stanford University will launch a new Center for Health Education on Sept. 1, providing online teaching tools for a variety of learners worldwide — from highly credentialed professionals seeking advanced curricula to community health workers in areas with no access to conventional educational resources.

A collaboration between the School of Medicine and the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, the center will be directed by Charles Prober, MD, the medical school’s former senior associate dean for medical education and a pioneer in advancing health education through digital training.

“Thanks to Charles’ visionary leadership, Stanford Medicine has earned an international reputation for collaboratively building innovative curricula and blended learning experiences,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “The new Center for Health Education will capitalize on this progress through a strong partnership with the vice provost’s office, helping extend advances in understanding achieved by our world-class faculty to learners far beyond our campus boundaries.”

The center will use the resources and expertise developed by the vice provost’s office over the past five years, including experts in instructional design, program development and learner support. The vice provost’s office will be the center’s home base. Prober will serve as both the founding director of the center and the senior associate vice provost for health education within the office.

‘Meaningful impact on human health’

“We are very pleased to serve the School of Medicine and the field of medicine in this way,” said John Mitchell, PhD, vice provost for teaching and learning. “An important part of our mission is to make Stanford’s expertise more broadly available. This new center provides an opportunity to do that through meaningful impact on human health.”

John Mitchell, vice provost for teaching and learning, says part of his office's mission is to make Stanford's expertise more broadly available.
Judith Romero

The center’s offerings ultimately may range from free content in resource-poor countries to fee-based certificate and degree programs in developed economies, Mitchell said, and will be funded by private foundations and philanthropy, tuition and, in some cases, research sponsorships.

Prober noted that the proliferation of smart devices into the farthest reaches of the globe has made it possible to distribute health information broadly, with content tailored to address a wide variety of audiences. A topic like nutrition education, for example, can be tailored to reach medical students, patients, health professionals in continuing medical education or individual citizens in rural communities in some of the world’s most impoverished countries.

“Anything we create of inherent value for health care should be repurposed for health care for all, including developing countries,” he said. 

The center will build upon existing programs developed by the medical school and the vice provost’s office and also expand partnerships with other organizations, including academic institutions, governmental agencies and nonprofits both in the United States and abroad.

The center will expand Stanford’s Digital Medical Education International Collaborative program, which aims to improve health education by creating high-quality, accessible content for use in developing countries. Digital MEdIC already has a strong presence in India, where Sakti Srivastava, MD, associate professor of surgery and director of the program, has been building partnerships with public and private medical schools, nonprofits and government agencies to make online and simulation-based resources about health more widely available.

Similarly, Maya Adam, MD, a lecturer in pediatrics, is now expanding the Digital MEdIC program in South Africa by disseminating digital teaching tools on nutrition, pregnancy, breastfeeding and HIV management that can be used by community health workers and local women who might not otherwise have access to this information. 

Combining online, interactive learning

The new center also will promote courses that combine online and interactive learning. For example, students at Stanford’s medical school now learn biochemistry by watching short videos on their own time and then attending interactive class sessions to discuss the material. Whereas attendance in biochemistry lectures once hovered between 20 and 30 percent (not unusual at medical schools), some 95 percent of students now attend the interactive sessions. The School of Medicine has been collaborating with other medical schools in developing a similar approach to teaching microbiology and other topics in basic science.

While the center will initially draw content from the School of Medicine, it eventually will include other Stanford faculty whose work touches on health and wellness — for example, experts on climate change, economics, psychology and international law.

“We invite faculty from other Stanford schools with an interest in health to join in the effort and help us make the most effective contribution possible to world health,” Mitchell said.



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