To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Interviews with Brandeis University’s academic leadership: the HSSP Program

The chair of Brandeis University’s Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) program, Professor Darren Zinner, sat down for an interview with The Brandeis Hoot to shed a little light on the program, its future and himself. This interview is part of a series of interviews with the chairs of a plethora of different academic departments and programs at Brandeis.

Zinner spoke on the cardinal components of the HSSP major; including the benefits that students can gain from an interdisciplinary program like HSSP, the hands-on experience the program offers and a few paths that students can follow after graduating from Brandeis.

The HSSP major was created 20 years ago, Zinner explained, to build on many strengths Brandeis has as an institution. It’s an interdisciplinary track with strong connections to biology, natural sciences, social sciences and policy. The program is also connected to the Heller School and the Legal Studies department primarily, according to Zinner.

According to Zinner, “maybe 20 percent to 25 percent [of HSSP students] are in a pre-clinical pathway that could be medicine, nursing, or dental, another group [works] in hospitals and insurance companies. Another group might be interested in global health. Other groups probably work for patient advocacy or more social justice concerns working for nonprofits across the board. And others might get graduate degrees like a master of public health or master of public policy, or even a healthcare-oriented MBA.”

Other paths toward nursing school, assistant dentistry or physical therapy are popular too. “Insurance companies, clinics and pharmaceutical firms all need scientists and managers and directors,” Zinner added.

After introducing the post-graduation possibilities for HSSP students, Zinner talked about one of the most critical components of the HSSP program: the hands-on experience. He mentioned that “two-thirds [of HSSP students] satisfy the hands-on experience requirement through an internship. Those internships need to be with health care organizations, but the range is as wide as our students take.” 

Students fulfill the hands-on experience requirement in many different ways, Zinner went on: “we have folks teaching five-year-olds about nutrition in a summer camp. We have folks who are working at Manhattan Mental Health court.” According to the HSSP website, there are eight different ways that students can complete the experience requirement. 

The first option, which Zinner described, is having students complete an internship and take a class in tandem with it. There are other options including a summer study abroad program in Mérida, Mexico with the HSSP 137A class. Students can also fulfill the requirement by choosing other study abroad programs with a health-related focus, according to the university’s page. HSSP majors could also elect to do a senior thesis or independent research, according to the page. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the major created additional options for students in order to complete the requirement. The temporary options were created because the department wanted to recognize the struggle of obtaining an internship due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to the HSSP page

The HSSP program provides a lot of freedom for students. Zinner also added that some students try a study abroad program to fulfill the hands-on experience requirements. As described above, one such program is the Brandeis in Mérida program “in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where [students] learn about public health in South and Central America.” Zinner also mentioned that some HSSP students study abroad in London or Denmark.

He went on to explain that HSSP students do their internships in a variety of different ways. “In bio labs at Brandeis and others in biotech firms. Some work in hospitals or nursing homes, but we also have interns that are working with helping in a living center with traumatic brain injury,” said Zinner.

Zinner added that hands-on experience plays a vital role for students who want to try something in the real world, which might help them confirm their path after graduation. According to Zinner, the vital component of HSSP is that the program tackles more than just medicine or research, but both the justice and the medical needs in the real world. Zinner listed a couple of essential factors that could possibly impact an individual’s medical well-being, including housing, environment and nutrition.

The HSSP major provides students with an interdisciplinary study of health and hands-on experience opportunities, the major prepares students for a variety of professional opportunities. 

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