UC-Mexico Health Initiative completes first year of online health course, begins year two

August 30, 2018

Diplomado students at a graduation ceremony in June

In June, students in Mexico received the first diplomado, or certificate, from an online health course delivered by the international, inter-institutional UC-Mexico Initiative. The course, titled Health Management and Leadership, marks a big jump forward for binational public health education delivered through an online platform.

“The idea was to develop an online program that could be delivered across all of Mexico,” says Joe Houska, lecturer with the UC Berkeley Online MPH program, who serves as academic director of the project after a 29-year career as an executive at Kaiser Permanente. Students in the program—physicians, medical residents, and other health professionals—represent various parts of the country, from northern Mexico to Mexico City to Chiapas in the far south.

“Some of them work in tertiary care centers,” says Houska. “Others were working in much smaller, rural settings.”

The course stems from a partnership between the University of California system and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM. In January of 2014, University of California President Janet Napolitano launched the UC-Mexico Initiative. This initiative developed a program to forge academic fluidity, and by extension governmental cooperation, across the border by creating five working groups in different areas of study: arts and culture, education, environment, energy, and health.

The Health Working Group of the UC-Mexico Initiative seeks to equip health professionals with the tools to address critical areas of health on both sides of the border, including diabetes, violence, and maternal health. In 2009, Mexico instituted universal healthcare, a rapid expansion of which calls for improved health management capabilities.

The Health Management and Leadership course plays to that goal. “The idea is to improve the skills of existing administrators and increase the number of physicians going into administrative and management who have had a formal introduction into the science and art of management,” says Houska.

The course is organized into modules, each completed over the course of a month. These modules dive into topics like human resources, information technology, implementation of change, and performance improvement.

Fifty-one students completed the first course in June. There are 43 students enrolled in this year’s course, which started in mid-August 2018.

The teaching was divided among faculty across the UC system and UNAM, which presented a logistical challenge as well as an advantage to the course. “We were working across the University of California campuses, across languages, across national borders, and between two enormous and important universities in their own countries,” says Houska. “It’s not always easy to make those big units work together.”

The course was also paused for a month when an earthquake struck central Mexico in September 2017, and students addressed the post-disaster health needs of their communities. “That was a major challenge we didn’t expect,” says Houska.

But despite the challenges, Houska and his team also found advantages to working across institutions and borders. He worked closely with gifted faculty at UNAM and across the University of California who taught different modules, including John Myovich MBA, lecturer at SPH and expert in performance improvement techniques; Michelle Ruiz MAEd, bilingual instructional designer for School's Online MPH program, who guided the design and pedagogy across the border; UC San Diego’s Robert Kaplan PhD; and Carolina Martinez MD, a former UC San Diego student and current medical resident in Texas who facilitated the diplomado's delivery.

“We showed that this can be done, and we know what the challenges are,” says Houska as the course enters into its second year. “It’s extremely satisfying to know that we have been able to contribute to the education of these leaders in Mexican healthcare.”

By Austin Price