Before Dr. Jack Turman was a Fulbright Specialist in Morocco, the country did not yet have a formal public health degree program, despite the government’s ongoing efforts to address health disparities.
That began to change in 2016, when Turman spent five weeks at Hassan First University as a Fulbright Specialist, working with faculty to create the Kingdom’s first Masters of Public Health (MPH) program.
That partnership has since created a pipeline of graduates trained to improve public health in Morocco as well as the broader region, but also led to initiatives to enhance health education at Dr. Truman’s home institution in the United States.
Turman, a social and behavioral health sciences professor now at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Fairbanks School of Public Health, came to Morocco with years of experience building community-based public health programs in the United States.
He was also familiar with the country’s community health challenges, having visited Morocco several times as Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Indiana State University.
This combination of academic expertise and field experience allowed him to hit the ground running when he arrived at Hassan First University, located in Settat, a city south of Casablanca. With input from Moroccan colleagues, including Amahdar, he designed program syllabi, aligned course objectives with accreditation standards, and trained faculty during his five-week Specialist program.
“Morocco faces public health problems related to maternal and infant mortality, emerging chronic diseases, and non-transmitted diseases, among others,” explains Dr. Loubna Amahdar, who is now director of Hassan First University’s MPH program.
“Quality training in public health that addresses community needs is critical to improving health outcomes here,” she adds.
The Ministry of Education approved the new MPH program in the summer of 2017 and applications began pouring in. Almost 1,000 students applied for 30 places: twenty-five Moroccan students and five students from across sub-Saharan Africa were admitted to the first cohort in fall 2017.
Those first students graduated last spring, and their training has been in high demand.
“Everyone is now employed or has gone on to higher education,” says Turman.
He believes the program has been successful because it is designed to help students address public health concerns within a Moroccan cultural context.
Dr. Amahdar elaborates, “This program is based in action-based research for each student, so while learning public health practice, each student will be addressing a health need in his/her community and translating research into practices and policies to effect change in Moroccan health outcomes.”
As a result of his Fulbright Specialist experience, his partnership with faculty at Hassan First University has continued to grow and benefit students on both sides of the Atlantic.
Upon returning from Morocco, he developed and co-taught with Amahdar a course in which MPH students at Hassan First University and IUPUI work together throughout the semester on a strategic plan to address a community health concern in Morocco.
Thus far, student plans have addressed pressing issues such as juvenile diabetes prevention, increasing access to public spaces for children with disabilities and their families, providing clean water to Casablanca’s urban poor, and tuberculosis eradication.
Turman says it’s his favorite class. “We can’t teach global health with PowerPoint slides,” he says.
More recently, he has partnered with Dr. Amira Mashour, Director of IUPUI’s Arabic Program, to develop a minor in Arab culture and public health. The new program is currently pending approval from the university.
If it gets a greenlight, Turman believes it may be the first program of its kind in the United States to focus on combining cultural competency in the Middle East and North Africa with public health.
“We want students to have exposure to Arabic because language is a window into culture,” he explains.
Dr. Leslie Bozeman, Director of Curriculum Internationalization at IUPUI, acknowledges the far-reaching effects of Turman’s Fulbright Specialist grant.
“Dr. Turman has leveraged the Fulbright Specialist Program to provide beneficial learning opportunities to students in multiple countries who have the potential to make a significant impact on their home communities and in global settings. His work is a great example of the value of intercultural exchange and global learning for faculty and students, and it shows how faculty participation in the Fulbright Program can lead to effective international partnerships, contribute to curriculum internationalization efforts, and result in innovative educational approaches,” she says.
Turman also set about establishing a summer internship program that enables an IUPUI graduate student to spend six weeks teaching community and maternal health courses at Hassan First University.
Last summer, Karlee Seider was the program’s second intern. She says the experience was transformative both personally and professionally, helping her to decide to pursue a career in teaching global health.
“Teaching in Morocco provided me with the opportunity to see how various parts of the world are handling similar problems that the United States faces,” she says. “During my time in Morocco I got to experience cultural differences and the challenges those bring us as public health officials.”
Turman still returns to Morocco each May to teach an intensive course in maternal and child health to MPH students and advises two public health doctoral students.
He is energized by what he has accomplished with his colleagues at Hassan First University and is currently working towards his dream of establishing public health education across North Africa and the Middle East.
“My Fulbright Specialist grant was the first step in making it a reality,” he adds.
Stephanie Genkin is a media and content strategist for World Learning, a non-profit organization that focuses on international development, education and exchange programs — including the Fulbright Specialist Program. She was a producer at CNN for 15 years and before that a freelance print reporter based in the Middle East. She earned an MPhil. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford, St. Antony’s College and was a Fulbright Scholar to Jordan.
The Fulbright Specialist Program was established in 2001 by the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to enable U.S. professionals and scholars to work on short-term projects overseas in conjunction with local host institutions.
For more information about the Fulbright Specialist Program or to apply, please go to: https://fulbrightspecialist.worldlearning.org/the-fulbright-specialist-program/