Health Advocacy Courses

Sarah Lawrence established the first master's program in health advocacy and remains the premier academic program preparing graduates to play a significant role in shaping the future of this field.

2017-2018 Courses

Health Advocacy

Models of Advocacy: Theory and Practice I

Graduate Seminar—Spring

In-person intensive and online

This course explores the multiple roles that health advocates assume as they create productive change on behalf of patients/consumers, families, and communities. Advocacy is practiced by improving the way in which health care is delivered within existing systems; by restructuring or reinventing areas of the health care system; and by eliminating barriers to health caused by environmental destruction, poverty, and illiteracy. Throughout the year, students will be exposed to leaders who practice in diverse arenas within this interdisciplinary field. Students will learn to analyze organizations and communities in order to understand hierarchies and decision-making within them and to be exposed to frameworks for conceptualizing and promoting the right to health. The course will also explore strategies to give health advocates and consumers more power in making decisions, defining issues, designing programs, and developing policies. The experiences of individuals and communities, as well as how systems respond to those experiences, will remain a central focus as students explore concepts, models, and practices of health advocacy.

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Health Law

Graduate Seminar

This course introduces students to a broad range of legal and policy issues surrounding the provision of health care. The course will focus on three areas: rights of patients in their relationships with health care professionals and institutions, licensing and regulatory issues, and conflicts between the rights of individuals and the interests of society.

Physiology and Disease

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Online

This course provides first-time physiology students with an introductory survey of the major areas of human physiology. Students will learn about the major systems of the human body; the normal physiology and representative disease states will be examined to highlight what can go wrong. Students will explore the range of causes of disease and infirmity, as well as the barriers to an individual’s ability to regain health. Students will gain an understanding of how the social determinants of health, the environment, and other factors affect acute and chronic illness.

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Economics of Health

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This course will examine many of the major issues facing the American health care system from a variety of economic perspectives. A wide range of topics will be covered, from the racial and economic disparities in health outcomes to the Patient Protection Act and alternative modes of financing of the medical care delivery system. Students will learn how the tools and analytic approaches used by economists can enhance the understanding of major public-health issues such as AIDS, reproductive care, and mental health, as well as key health care financing issues such as the rising cost of health care and our fragmented insurance system.

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Ethics and Advocacy

Graduate Seminar

Online

Using a social justice framework, this course will provide a theoretical foundation for the exploration and application of ethical dilemmas relevant to the health care system in the United States. The ethics of advocacy, in its various forms, will be explored from different positions—from the patient and family level to health care institutions, funding mechanisms, and public policy perspectives. Due to shifting demographics of who provides care, the “where” of health care and the resulting ethical dilemmas will be explored—as the majority of long-term care in the United States is provided in the community by family caregivers. In addition, as the medical model of disease has shifted to include the social-ecological model—recognizing the importance of the social on all aspects of health, wellness, and illness—ethical dilemmas have changed, as well. The shift away from purely medical bioethics to a more socially informed version of health care requires different approaches to solving new problems encountered within the current health care system. This course is not intended to teach you a moral code. It will not teach you to act ethically, although it will likely make you think more about how you act and why. You will be challenged to identify ethical problems and explore various outcomes and solutions, making real-world decisions within a climate of moral ambiguity and competing priorities. Ethical dilemmas that you have or with which you are engaging in your field placements will provide possibilities for fertile conversations about these real-world dilemmas and how to effectively grapple with the range of possible outcomes.

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Research Methods for Health Advocacy

Graduate Seminar—Summer

Online

This course introduces students to the research process that supports effective health advocacy in the community. Students will learn the principles of literature review, instrument construction and implementation, and issues specific to community-based work and needs assessment. They will be exposed to the process of ethical approval for research involving human subjects in the community. Students will have an opportunity to apply these principles of research in the community setting, gaining an in-depth understanding of context-driven, community-based participatory research and the concept of co-production of knowledge. They will develop assessment and evaluation skills, gaining practical experience and applying statistical principles. By introducing students to data-collection concepts and analysis, this course establishes foundations that will be further refined in subsequent course work in the program.

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History of Health Care in the United States

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Online

From colonial times, access to health care has been less a history of access and inclusion and more one of exclusion and organizing to guarantee its access to the increasingly diverse population of a growing country. In this conference-based course, we will explore the varied understandings of health and medical care from colonial times to the late 20th century. Topics to be considered will include the role that ethnicity, race, gender, and religious identity played in access to and provision of health services; the migration of health care from home and community (midwifery, homeopathy) to institutions (nursing, hospitals) and the social conditions that fueled that migration; the struggle for ascendancy among the different fields of medical education; and the creation of the field of public health, its role in defining and controlling outbreaks of disease, and its impact on addressing inequities in access to health care services. Course participants will prepare a major research paper, investigating an aspect of the history of health care that is of special interest. The conference paper will be developed through regular meetings with the instructor and in conjunction with other course participants.

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Models of Advocacy: Theory and Practice II

Graduate Seminar—Fall

This course will focus on how health advocates can effect policy change through development of an advocacy campaign. Students will define a health policy or system problem, formulate a proposed solution, identify needed data and narratives to demonstrate the need for your proposed solution, and map the other stakeholders (allies and opponents) who must be engaged. Students will learn how to select the appropriate advocacy strategies to bring about the desired changes in health policy and/or systems and the range of tools and skills that they can employ to pursue their chosen advocacy strategy. Students will gain an understanding of the range of factors to be considered in choosing the decision makers who should be the target(s) of the campaign, such as local, state, or federal health officials or executives of hospitals.

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Capstone Seminar

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Capstone Seminar provides a strategic perspective on how the health care field is evolving and the skills required to successfully navigate the rapidly changing profession in a system that is undergoing significant reform. The seminar is designed to facilitate students' work on the Capstone projects, affording a group setting in which to explore ideas and refine project parameters, connect the project to broader advocacy concepts and career development opportunities, and receive regular feedback on Capstone progress. Students integrate academic learning with field experience and examine how theoretical advocacy themes are made operational in workplace settings. The Capstone project builds on the third and final fieldwork placement. Capstone is designed to enhance the coherence of students’ educational experiences and further develop their sense of professional identity.

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Program Design and Evaluation

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Health advocacy issues are addressed in many different ways, typically involving some type of direct intervention. This course will provide an overview of, and a critical reflection on, the program design and evaluation process. Students will discuss and study elements of design and evaluation, the major theoretical and political orientations to evaluation research, and the practical, ethical, and methodological problems involved in applying research methods to understanding social change. Thus, this course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research and practice. We will discuss how to approach program conception and implementation, including developing and measuring program goals and objectives, with a social-justice perspective. At the end of this course, students will be able to conceptually and practically understand the contours of how to thoughtfully plan, develop, and evaluate an intervention aimed at a health advocacy issue.

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Health Care Policy

Graduate Seminar—Fall

This course will examine the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of health care policy. It will focus on the interaction of the health care system with the federal, state, and local political systems. Individual pieces of health policy will be used to study the evolution of health policy and the impact of health policy on health care in the United States.

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Illness and Disability Narratives

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The experience of illness and disability is both intimately personal and reflective of larger social, political, and cultural realities. In order to effectively work in direct patient care or in broader scholarly or organizational arenas, a health advocate must be able to interpret and understand personal, communal, and institutional narratives. This course will introduce students to written and visual narratives of illness and disability, narrative and cultural theory, as well as media studies. Students will write their own illness or disability narratives during the course session, exploring issues such as selfhood, perspective, memory, family, and caregiving. Finally, students will elicit, transcribe, and interpret the oral narrative of an individual with a chronic illness or disability.

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