Collaboration and Compassion

How Public Health Education Champions Student Agency

public health education

For many young health professionals, education is a largely didactic affair. Teachers lecture. Students listen. There are exams to cram for and mountains of regulations to memorize. But for anyone working in public health education, raw knowledge isn’t often enough. These professionals and practitioners have to connect with the public in meaningful ways, work with diverse teams of healthcare experts, and empower their communities to make positive health changes. How do you even begin to teach those principles in the confines of a classroom?

To Dr. Bojana Beric-Stojsic of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Health Master’s Program, the answer lies in stepping away from a lecture-oriented curriculum:

“When I started teaching, I lectured, and I really didn’t feel good bombarding students with information while they were quietly listening. My class doesn’t look like that anymore. It’s a lot livelier. And everyone is talking.”

But this democratic approach to public health education isn’t a free-for-all. It’s a carefully crafted teaching strategy designed to build confidence, spark passion, and impart multidisciplinary knowledge.

Recently, Dr. Beric-Stojsic sat down with to discuss how she makes that happen and how health education and health promotion students thrive in collaborative student-run learning environments.

dr. bojana beric-stoisicDr. Bojana Beric-Stojsic has both degrees an MD and a PhD in Health Education. Though she’s currently the Director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Master of Public Health program online, she has spent the last 28 years teaching in universities and diving into her own research interests focusing on health promotion pedagogy and interprofessional education. However, Dr. Beric-Stojsic isn’t one to keep her talents in the classroom. She has also served as President of the New Jersey Society for Public Health Education and has represented national and international professional associations (SOPHE & IUHPE) at the United Nations. Her work in public health is further fueled by a passion for social justice and global human rights.

Sparking Curiosity in a Flipped Classroom

According to Dr. Beric-Stojsic, instructor-led democratic discussion class formats don’t always foster the kind of inquisitiveness public health education students need:

“When I teach, I need to engage students to work with them on creating their own knowledge, on developing their own philosophy of health and finding their own way of communicating about health to potential clients, students, patients.”

To get students to think beyond the right answer/wrong answer construct of classroom discussion, Dr. Beric-Stojsic explored a pedagogy, or teaching method, called flipped classroom.

What Happens in a Flipped Classroom?

In a flipped classroom, students are given materials to read and explore on their own before class (articles, online presentations, textbook chapters, etc.). Come class time, instead of just listening to a lecture, students are encouraged to engage in and lead discussions based on their own interests, motivations, and curiosity about the subject.


Aside from participating in discussions, students in flipped classrooms might:

  • Have ongoing discussions through online class forums.
  • Work on group projects.
  • Critique existing health-related literature.
  • Create content for pre-class videos.
  • Work on in-depth writing assignments to be discussed in class.

No matter the specific activity, the focus is typically on problem-solving and the application of learned principles. In this context, the teacher’s role is often to act as a facilitator and guide, not a direct instructor.

The flipped classroom pedagogy is relatively new. At the same time, there’s a wealth of positive research that demonstrates how this student-forward method is well beyond its infancy.

According to a study of almost 400 high school students in 2021, flipping the classroom often helps students grasp material better than more conventional teaching tactics:

“Students who were taught using flipped teaching models demonstrate better levels of comprehension due to changes in learning style and attitude in the flipped classroom, which enhances their effectiveness in learning language than their counterparts who received traditional teaching.”

But as attractive as this collaborative teaching strategy sounds, how well does it actually work in a graduate-level public health program?

The Importance of the Flipped Classroom Pedagogy in Public Health Education

A public health education or health promotion class may be full of students with a broad set of focuses like nutrition, fitness, mental health, and epidemiology. In a flipped classroom, all of these students are talking with each other. They’re connecting their disciplines, sparking each other’s curiosity, and formulating holistic health philosophies. As Dr. Beric-Stojsic so succinctly put it:

“The flipped classroom strategy is, I think, one of the most effective ways of not just communicating content but producing able and competent professionals or practitioners in public health.”

However, Dr. Beric-Stojsic and her colleagues don’t base this opinion solely on subjective feelings. They published a study in 2019 that explores the effectiveness of the flipped classroom strategy in graduate-level public health course.

The team found that the flipped classroom method increased classroom participation and enthusiasm, clarified high-level topics, and was generally “conducive to learning and growth.” Furthermore, Dr. Beric-Stojsic and her colleagues found that in this interactive, confidence-building environment, learning style preference seemed to have no bearing on a student’s likelihood to participate in discussion, underlining the flipped classroom strategy as an equitable and accessible participatory educational method.

Inviting Collaboration Through Interprofessional Education

Health promotion programs and public health initiatives are rarely focused on one aspect of wellbeing. More commonly, they’re holistic. A company-sponsored fitness program likely has a nutritional component. Cancer prevention, smoking cessation, and alcohol abuse initiatives might require addressing mental health issues. To prepare students to work on these multifaceted campaigns, public health education programs typically involve Interprofessional Education (IPE) activities, exercises, and courses.

In an IPE course, a public health student might work with nursing, pre-med, and health informatics students on projects and case studies. By working together, students don’t just learn about relevant fields. They learn how real-world healthcare providers make complicated decisions about patient and public health, at the same time becoming competent in professional communication, building a team and teamwork, reassessing own and professional ethics and values, and learning about other healthcare professionals’ roles and responsibilities.

doctors putting together puzzle pieces

For example, a public health student working with future nurses and their instructors can learn about the challenges faced by today’s healthcare practitioners like staffing and patient healthcare access barriers. When that same student becomes a community health coordinator at a large hospital network, they can use those insights to lead initiatives that are as realistic and practical as they are optimistic and helpful.

Interprofessional Collaboration: A Key Component to CDC Public Health Initiatives

In April 2004, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced a nationwide program to address the needs of America’s cancer survivors. These needs include preventing cancer recurrence, managing pain and disability, and building social support systems for survivors and their loved ones.

This long-term endeavor requires vast amounts of cooperation. Health informatics experts must collect and interpret decades of data. Mental health practitioners and physicians need to understand how their treatments interact and affect cancer survivors on a day-to-day level. Social workers connect cancer survivors to the right resources. And the organizations these professionals work for must all collaborate to keep these types of programs moving forward.

IPE experiences prepare public health and health promotion students to not just cooperate with these teams, but act as liaisons between them and the people they serve. They ensure the public understands how these programs work, why they’re important, and guide policy so that patients across the nation have access to the resources they need.

To Dr. Beric-Stojsic, this collaborative approach to healthcare education is a point of pride for her field:

“In early 2000s, many professional associations were interested in improving their students’ experiences during studies of pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and public health. The Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health (ASPPH) was one of the first that joined this group of professional associations, and they established national Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) in 2011 offering core competencies for interprofessional education and collaboration in healthcare.”

But this strategy doesn’t just benefit public health students. A 2019 study on interprofessional training in healthcare education found that after going through an IPE experience, most students agreed that, “incorporating the public health discipline as part of an interprofessional team is crucial to addressing the social determinants of health for individual health outcomes.” So while IPE experiences may help students expand their clinical knowledge, they can also create a collaborative patient-centered atmosphere focused on making communities holistically healthy.

This unique combination of curiosity-evoking teaching methods and interdisciplinary learning opportunities makes Dr. Beric-Stojsic feel confident about the future of public health:

“This teaching, this pedagogy builds a professional integrity of students and future practitioners. But at the same time, it allows for personal growth, connections, understanding and caring.”

And when America’s healthcare system is full of dynamic, empathetic health professionals, person-centered care comes out on top.