Can you measure how social media friendly Schools of Public Health are?

How social media friendly are Danish Schools of Public Health? Nordic Schools of Public Health? European Schools of Public Health? And which are the most friendly? Can it at all be measured? And what does it mean to score high on social media friendliness?

The answers to these questions are not straight forward. But if we turn our heads to the other side of the Atlantic, an attempt to answer the question of how social media friendly American Schools of Public Health are, and who are the most friendly has been made by the people of MPHprogramsList.com (*read more about them below). They have compared the 57 different Schools of Public Health and come up with a list of the 25 Most Social Media Friendly Schools of Public Health for 2012.

The scores are calculated based on the number of followers and the amount of activity on the three most popular sites: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as the number of followers on LinkedIn. In addition, activity on Google Plus, Pinterest, and Flickr was also taken into account.  (read more about the scoring system here).

The ‘winner’ is Harvard School of Public Health, closely followed by University of Memphis School of Public Health, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Branding and attracting students

So why is this interesting? Well, the motivation for making this list, as presented by MPHprogramsList.com, was that social media play a key role for American universities in attracting prospective students. A survey presented in an article thus showed that about two-thirds of high school students uses social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to check out colleges. This obviously makes social media an important tool in branding the School, but are there other benefits to being social media friendly?

Effects on communicating science and public engagement in science?

It would be interesting to study what other motives there are for the universities in having a strong social media presence, and studying how this affects the way social media is used. Apart from attracting students has it contributed to bringing attention to and communicate research performed by the university? Has it had an impact on the application and implementation of their research? Or even and impact on Public Health? Of course part of the method to attract students is to explain what research the university undertakes, but has the social media presence also lead to discussions of research and dialogue with both current and future students as well as the general public? It would be interesting to learn more about this. Especially if one is to argue for why European Schools of Public Health should prioritize social media, since the attraction of students, although still relevant, plays a less prominent role for the schools. I am not myself aware of any such research studies, but if they exist it would be great to learn about them.

*MPH Programs List.com was created as a free resource for students interested in graduate public health, public administration, public policy and health administration programs. Their goal in creating this site is to attract students to these under-served yet highly rewarding fields. The goal is to highlight MPH programs around the globe including Online MPH programsCEPH Accredited ProgramsMPH Careers, the MPH Experience and more.


Also deans of Schools of Public Health can blog – and master the discipline very well!

I love when I come across people, who in a public health perspective are high ranking and hold influential positions in public health – and who blogs! It proves that blogging is for all, whether you’re a public health student or the dean of a School of Public Health. This week I came across a great example of the later.

Antoine Flahault is dean of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (EHESP, School of Public Health, which belongs to Sorbonne Paris Cité, a confederal French university), and a regular blogger on his own University blog, which is simply called Antoine Flahault’s blog, and was started already in November 2007 (it is available in both English and French).

The content of the blog seems very much to be a reflection of the different aspects of public health which Antonie encounters both as a Dean of a School of Public Health and as a public health professional himself. He shares his thoughts and opinion on for example (and these are just a few!):

What I like about the blog, is that Antonie Flahault is not afraid to share his opinion. He argues for his points of view and thus indirectly gives a window into where he sees that a school of public health should be heading. He poses questions and invites comments (although this doesn’t seem much used), which hopefully stimulates discussion and reflection among his readers. And then something I appreciate very much: he writes as him. Not only as the dean, but as Antonie Flahault. This gives the blog a personal touch, which makes it engaging to read. There are no pictures, but lots of background links and the blog is very much alive with very regular postings of new blogs. I truely feel I have learnt something new or reflected on a topic after having read his blog posts.

I have come across other blogs run by deans of schools of public health – but not many, and this one is definitely the absolute best I have encountered so far. I just started following Antoine on Twitter and look forward to reading more of his thoughts on public health, which are very inspirering.

Other examples of blogs (not newsletters) by Deans of Schools of Public Health:

Just a little bit of background info on Antoine Flahault:

Antoine Flahault was formerly a public health intern, doctor of medicine, doctor of biomathematics, professor of public health at Université Paris Descartes – public health practitioner at Hôtel Dieu de Paris ; he was former head of the public health department at Tenon hospital, Paris. He headed the Sentinelles research team at Inserm-UPMC (UMR-S 707) and the WHO Collaborating Centre for electronic disease surveillance. He co-ordinated a research programme bringing together disease surveillance, preventive epidemiology and mathematical modelling. In collaboration with WHO, he developed the international ‘flu monitoring system (FluNet). In 2006 he was responsible for setting up an interdisciplinary unit for research into Chikungunya and since 28 November 2007 he has been responsible for a research and monitoring unit into emerging diseases in the Guyana and Caribbean region. He was appointed director of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (EHESP, School of Public Health, which belongs to Sorbonne Paris Cité, a confederal French university) from 1 January 2008. He has been elected as president of the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER) in 2010-2011. He has been elected as Correspondant Member at the French Academy of Medicine in December 2009.


Students minding the science gap in public health

I have previously written about the use of blogs by students and researchers at schools of public health (I called them Schools of Public Health 2.0). One example was School of Public Health at the University of British Colombia.

This week, I came across another school of Public Health Sciences that is actively using blogging in communicating with the world, and in giving students communication skills.

For ten weeks between January and April 2012, ten Masters of Public Health students from the University of Michigan (UM), have taken on a blogging challenge. On the website Mind the Science Gap they are posting weekly articles about various public health related news, research studies etc. The aim is for the students to learn how to translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate. The objective of this whole blogging exercise is an ambitious one:

“to help ensure that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best communicators around when it comes to translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on.”

As part of the initiative, readers of the blog have been encouraged to write comments, both on the content and the form. So-called mentors from all backgrounds have signed up to comment on a weekly basis (you can still sign up here). With the comments the aim is for the students to improve their communication skills though the ten weeks.

I have read a few of the blog post and also commented and my impression is so far very good. Both because the blog posts are interesting and well written, but also reading the many comments to each of the blogs is great. There are good tips from experienced science bloggers that others than the ten students can learn from. And then I do in general appreciate the ambitious tone of the blog initiative: ensuring that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best at translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on. Imagine if they are succesful in this. Not only will that be an advantage for the work places that will later on recruit these ten students, it could potentially put pressure on other schools of public health to make sure that their students are even better – and are they succesful in that imagine all the benefit that could be achieved to public health! Okay, maybe this is a little naive – but one can always hope…

A blogging school

In addition to Mind the Science Gap, the MU School of Public Health also has a student blog where students blog about life as students of Public Health, and a long list of blogs from several SPH faculty, alums, and student groups. For example: Rackham Graduate School blogs, run by two Ph.D. students, a Risk Science Center blog, a Public Health Library blog, a UM SPH Epidemiology Student Organization blog, the blog 2020 Science about emerging science and technology and many more (see the complete list here).


Literature review proves: web2.0+public health=public health 2.0

Being true to the main focus of this blog on Public Health Sciences Communication 2.0 it is almost obligatory that I recommend this great and extensive literature review headlined “Public Health 2.0”. The comprehensive list of 109 articles has been put together by Dean Giustini and D. Westbrook from University of British Colombia in Canada and covers in the broadest sense articles on a large range of initiatives, research studies and phenomnoners of social media and other web2.0 elements directly applied to different areas of public health. If someone doubted that there was a connection between web2.0 and public health this should make them think otherwise. And no doubt this list is only the tip of the iceberg.

The list includes articles focusing generally on web2.0 technologies and its influence on public health, but also articles with examples of the concrete use or role of different kinds of social media in public health. This includes for example articles on the use of Twitter in epidemiological studies of H1NI, the Analysis of the use of Facebook for seeking support on breast cancer and YouTube as Source of Prostate Cancer Information. The majority of the articles are focused on the analysis of the content on different platforms, thus a focus on the population generated data as sources of information, but there are also a few articles looking at how social media can be used directly by researchers and policy makers to communicate health messages and on how social media can be used as a tool for researchers and policy makers in public health to communicate with each other. The number of articles on the later is however still limited.

Dean Giustini, is a reference librarian at the Biomedical Branch Library of University of British Colombia and leads a Master’s-level course on Social Media in Health and Medicine which I have previously written about here on this blog.

For a smaller and more digestible list of articles about social media and public health Youth Health 2.0 have put together a list of 9 cool public health and social media articles.


Public health interest in a correct and elaborate wikipedia?

I just thought I’d share with you a short follow-up to my previous post about a Wikipedia training session at McMaster University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. In an article in the online local newspaper TheSpec.com the session, which approximately 30 people attended, is mentioned.

There are some interesting statistics and an insight into how one can almost get hooked on sharing knowledge via Wikipedia. I particular find the reflections by Dr. James Heilman (president of Wikimedia Canada) on public health responsibility in making sure that health and medicine related information on Wikipedia is correct, very interesting:

“Whether we like it or not, the world is going to Wikipedia as its primary source of information … so I see it as a public health measure for physicians to make sure the health-care content is accurately covered.”

According to Dr. Christopher Mackie, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, it is the hope that the faculty will incorporate Wikipedia in their class assignments. He points out that it would be:

“a huge missed opportunity when you have these very intelligent people doing research papers and learning all about an issue just to have the paper sit on a shelf … we can leverage the knowledge to improve everyone’s knowledge about health-care subjects. We all have an interest in making sure good information is available.”

For Dr James Heilman the project of making researchers and universities explore and contribute to Wikipedia was to continue at University of British Columbia. I believe it was in connection with this event Wikipedia and Higher Education.

I wonder if a similar training session would be something that could be introduced at the University of Copenhagen?


Wikipedia trainings at a faculty of health sciences

There really does seem to be something about Canada + public health + social media. Constantly do I come across initiatives, programmes and conferences from Canadian universities that are exploring the use of social media in health research and communication.

WikipediaMy latest discovery comes from the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University in Ontario. This time it is Wikipedia that is at the focus of attention. A workshop for new Wikipedia writers took place on October 4th this year with the objective to encourage students, faculty researchers and staff to contribute to Wikipedia’s medical and health pages.

The rationale for the workshop was the following:

“Ensuring that high-quality health information is available to help people make informed decisions related to their health can be an important strategy to achieve the social objective of a healthy community. Wikipedia is a major source of health information for the general public and also for professionals in the health field.”

And it continues:

“Knowledge translation is a mandate shared by many organizations and granting bodies. Wikipedia can be part of a knowledge translation strategy. The volume of student work on health and related subjects each term is enormous. In many cases, rather than being publicly available and widely disseminated, high quality work sits on professors shelves or worse. Providing students with the tools to contribute to Wikipedia may make assignments more meaningful.”

The initiative came from the president of Wikimedia Canada, James Heilman, who has also been a contributor to the Wiki Project Medicine.

According to James Heilman, Wikipedia is one of the major sources for health and medical information worldwide. Its medical articles get between 150-200 million page views a month (in English alone) with up to 70 per cent of physicians using it in their clinical practice. The reason for reaching out to universities is according to James Heilman:

“Right now, Wikipedia is a good source of information but it could be better. To improve Wikipedia we need the input of the academic community.”

The workshop was offered free of charge to the participants but was partly sponsored by the university itself  through its Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

The workshop naturally has a wiki-entry where the objective and programme details are available.

I have not yet been able to find information on how the workshop went or how many participated, but as an initiative in itself I find it very interesting. Having the last couple of days interviewed researchers at the Institute of Public Health at University of Copenhagen, I must say that I find it extremely relevant also in a Danish context. Many people I have talked to do use Wikipedia, but have never reflected on the fact that they themselves can contribute to Wiki-pages. Or know how to do it. Offering the course to students also makes complete sense as using social media technologies, such a Wikipedia, is very much a question of creating a culture around it and train students and researchers to view it as an additional communication channel for research findings.


“Social Media in Health and Medicine” at UBC followed from the sideline

As I have previously written about on this blog, the School of Population and Public Health at University of British Colombia is now offering a course on Social Media in Health and Medicine.

The course is led by Dean Giustini who shares his presentation materials online. Since I am unfortunately not in Canada and can’t participate in the class, it is great to be able to follow it from the side. The presentation from the third week of the course was recently posted and focuses on Consumer (& public) health in social media.

The main topic for the session is on the citizens/consumers information gathering behavior when they are sick or need health information and the importance of not only literacy skills, but also media and social media literacy skills. Although primarily aimed at giving a quick overview, the presentation has good examples of where consumers seek information, how literacy skills become essential and examples of the continuum of new places to get health information online.


Public Health 2.0 Conference in Toronto

It seems like Canada is the place to be when it comes to public health 2.0 at universities these days. University of British Colombia offers graduate classes on Social Media in Health and Medicine and University of Toronto is 23. September hosting a one-day conference on Public Health 2.0. The conference is led by graduate students from at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health as part of an annual student led conference event.

According to the conference website Public Health 2.0 will examine the use and implications of participatory technologies in public health. The conference will create a forum for students, community members and organizations, academics, and public health professionals to share their knowledge and concerns about the role of participatory technologies in public health and the practical skills required to effectively use these technologies.

Being a one-day conference it is of course limited how inclusive the programme can be, but also challenged by the fact that Public Health 2.0 is a broad topic – primarily because Public Health in itself covers so many disciplines and areas of work. The programme illustrates this very well by touching upon many different areas of public health 2.0.

The conference website has a lot of good preparational stuff. There a nice list of examples of Public Health 2.0 activities from around the world and informative background information on the different speakers.

I myself will unfortunately not be able to join, but hope that there will be some Twittering going on. Is there an assigned hashtag?

You can also follow the conference on Facebook and Twitter


A true School of Public Health 2.0: “Social Media in Health and Medicine” at University of British Colombia

Although it has been a while since I finalised the last courses of my Public Health Sciences Masters degree and although I wouldn’t give up any of the classes I followed, I must admit that I felt like going back to school when I by coincidence (well, actually through Twitter) became aware of what sounds like an awesome course at the School of Population and Public Health at University of British Colombia.

The course, entitled “Social Media in Health and Medicine“, is the first university course I have come across that focuses specifically on Social media and health. It aims to bring the participants attention to technologies and research associated with social media usage in health and medicine. The basis for offering the course is the acknowledgement that social media is changing how health practitioners, researchers and consumers find, share and discuss health information, contribute their understanding to health and manage information in the digital age. (For more see the detailed course outline)

The course is led by Dean Giustini, who is a reference librarian at the Biomedical Branch Library and from its description the course is laid out to be very much a hands‐on course where students will work directly with social media and decide how new communication practices can fit into their future work. This choice of methodology seems only natural since social media is all about being social and actively communicate, discuss and share – and you learn that much easier if you actually practice it and get your fingers into it. The students are to both microblog, blog, use wikipedia and the course is being refined collaboratively on the HLWIKI Canada SPPH 581H – Social media in health & medicine page.

Being a class on social media it is, even when not a student in the class, possible to follow it online. Using the using the hashtag #spph581h it can be followed on Twitter and through the blog of Dean Giustini, the presentations are made available on slideshare (see the presentation from first session here).

A School of Public Health 2.0?

Although not flashed on the website of the School of Population and Public Health, the University of British Colombia does seem to be a University taking advantage of the offers of web 2.0. The university has its own blog central where both teachers and students are encouraged to create groups, stay in touch and discuss. Although there are lots of half empty blogs etc it seems a good forum and starting point for getting experience with social media in relation to academic life. Offering the class of Social Media in Health and Medicine definitely qualifies the School of Population and Public Health at University of British Colombia to call themselves a School of Public Health 2.0 in my book.

I myself look forward to learning more of the course and research a bit on the background for offering the course, selecting the topics and inviting speakers. The world, or perhaps one should say the universe, of social media is so broad and diverse also when it comes to health and deciding on where to focus, which examples to highlight is a BIG job.

I hope to be able to follow it on Twitter and perhaps some of the student blogs if they are public. Until then, I hope that this can serve as inspiration to other schools of Public Health. There may be a lot we still don’t know or can predict about social media, but one thing we do know is that it can not be disregarded in general or in relation to public health!


Schools of Public Health 1.0 or 2.0?

Who does research in public health sciences? Searching for who and how social media is used to communicate public health research, this question all of a sudden becomes relevant. The answer is of course quite trivial. Lots of institutions and organisations conduct research in public health related issues. The spectrum goes across from private industries and organisation (both profit and non-profit) over semi-private organisation to public institutions such as universities and other government financed research organisations.

Taking a closer look at universities, I have surfed around the internet trying to find out if and to what extend Schools of Public Health have gone on board in the possibilities of web 2.0. Both when it comes to communicating their research as well as just general presence. And what I have found is perhaps not surprising, but in a globalised world I still believe it is worth a thought. What I find is that there seems to big differences across the Atlantic ocean. Starting with my own university (University of Copenhagen) and the Department of Public Health the use of social networks, blogs etc. is really very limited. And they are not alone. It has actually been surprisingly difficult to find examples of use of social web media amongst Schools of Public Health outside the US. Being well aware that I due to language barriers have not been able to go through non-English websites and only having done a limited number of general searches it still surprises me a little. The intentions to share knowledge and research are definitely there. For example the Department of Public Health at University of Copenhagen writes on their website with regards to public outreach:

“In its endeavour to improve public health and deepen understanding of the links between health and society, Department researchers communicate health knowledge and research results through scientific journals and other printed and electronic media, as well as in workshops, seminars and conferences. These propagation efforts seek to establish a debate-oriented dialogue among relevant actors.”

However, the Department does not have anything like a Facebook profile, a LinkedIn group, a Twitter account or the like. Neither is it from the website possible to be guided to any blogs or other platforms that allows for this debate-oriented dialogue which they seem interested in obtaining. And this is perhaps a missed opportunity. Neither the Department of Public Health Sciences at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have much to offer. The Institute itself have a Facebook group, but that seems to be it. With exceptions of course this very limited use of social web media seems to be the general trend across European schools of Public Health. The majority still seem to be on a 1.0 stage.

For links to  European Schools of Public Health look at ASPHER’s (Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region) list of members.

Turning the attention to the US, American Schools of Public Health seem to be adapting better to the social web media possibilities. A good example is UNC Gilings School of Global Public Health. They are present on Facebook, Twitter and have as one of the few an easily accessible Blog Central where they link to both an official blog by the dean as well as blogs by different staff and students of the university. The blogs varies just as much as people and do not follow the same formula. However, since every topic and every author will have a different prefered format the variation only makes sense.

Looking at other schools of public health in the US quite a lot of them are on eg. Facebook and Twitter and also LinkedIn and uses the sites to communicate what they do and what happens at the school (eg. Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Boston University, Tulane University etc.). As with the European schools of Public Health there are of course exceptions but here I would say the general trend is a much stronger attempt to make use of web 2.0.

For links to  American Schools of Public Health look at ASPH’s (Association of Schools of Public Health) list of members, who BTW also have a presence on social web media and offers their members help in developing Facebook and Twitter outreach campaigns.

In comparison to ASPH, the European sister association ASPER (Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region) have very limited use of social web media sites apart from a ASPHER blog, through which research from different member schools is highlighted.

From the above it could sound like being online is a quality in it self, but this is not my point. I have not yet gone into the specific sites and can draw no conclusions at this stage whether American schools of Public Health are better than their European sister schools in reaching new audiences in their research communication, are entering into new dialogue etc. But I’ll be curious to look more into that… What does seem like a trend to me at this stage (will keep exploring!) is that an Atlantic ocean makes a difference in whether a School of Public Health is 2.0 or 1.0.