Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Fall 2018

Integrating Health Policy Curriculum into the Classroom: An interview with Dr. Amber Emanuel

SBM’s Health Policy Committee

Amber Emanuel, PhD
Amber Emanuel, PhD

A significant limitation of behavioral science training is that few programs offer dedicated coursework in the training of health policy, advocacy, and research to policy translation. The Health Policy Committee (HPC) is pleased to introduce Dr. Amber Emanuel who is a Lecturer in the Department of Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida. Dr. Emanuel teaches a Community Health course for undergraduate students. Over the past 2 years, she has successfully incorporated health policy curriculum into this course. We recently spoke with her about her experience teaching health policy and advocacy approaches to her students.

What made you initially interested in adding policy training to your course?

My course already mentioned different health policies but it felt disjointed and students largely didn’t seem interested. At the SBM conference in 2017, I attended a symposium about policy and realized that I could do better at integrating and teaching my students about why policy matters and how to advocate for evidence-based health policies.

What policy training have you integrated into your course syllabus?

Now, I teach more policies throughout the semester to provide students with examples of existing or possible policies. We spend a week specifically talking about the details of writing policy briefs and how to advocate for health policies at different levels of government.  Then, for part of their final project, students craft a policy brief and related infographic.

What were your students’ reactions to this training?

Students seem to like crafting the policy brief specifically because they can see how health research & advocating for a specific health policy can have a large impact. I hear a lot of “I can’t believe this isn’t a policy already!” which helps students to see how much of our existing health knowledge and research isn’t getting translated into policies.  Also, the policy briefs and infographics themselves are substantive but stylish—we follow SBM’s formatting of their policy briefs (place link her to example/document?)---and students feel proud of how professional the final product is. 

What are some examples of policy topics have that your students tackled?

They’ve been varied: implementing Traffic Light Nutrition labels nationwide, requiring a sexual education module for first year college students, allocating more funding for the mental health counseling center at our university, requiring elementary schools to teach about skin cancer and sunscreen, changing the texting while driving law to make it a primary enforcement violation, and funding school-based mindfulness programs. 

Why do you think it is important to integrate policy advocacy into your courses?

It should be viewed as another skill set, just like statistical training. Advocacy requires skills—writing for a general audience, interacting with political leaders—and these skills are beneficial for all students.

What advice do you have for other professors/training programs in terms of how to restructure training to incorporate health policy topics into curriculum?

At either the graduate or undergraduate level, I would first suggest an entire semester-long seminar course on policy. If that’s not possible, start adding an additional policy question into existing assignments. We often ask students to think of individual-level interventions, but then also ask them to generate a realistic policy. To be able to generate a policy, students are demonstrating a deeper, multi-level understanding of the topic—a plus for both professors and students.