This month we speak to Serena Luchenski (Co-Director of the new online Master of Public Health (MPH)) about the new programme, why it's unique, and its future impact.
Clinical Associate Professor (Teaching) and Honorary Consultant in Public Health
Institute of Epidemiology & Health
Faculty of Pop Health Sciences
What is your role and what does it involve?
I have multiple roles, which makes my job really exciting. Half the time, I am a Clinical Associate Professor (Teaching) and Honorary Consultant in Public Health at the Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare. Within that role, I am Co-Director of the new online Master of Public Health (MPH) programme and I co-lead the Fundamentals of Interdisciplinary Public Health and Health Protection modules. I hold my honorary consultant contract with the UK Office for Health Disparities (formerly Public Health England) where I advise on Inclusion Health, which is my main area of research.
In my other half-time role, I am an NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow at the UCL Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health and Honorary Consultant with University College London Hospital (UCLH). My PhD thesis is about ‘making every contact count’ and improving the integration of preventative services with usual care in hospitals for people experiencing homelessness. I am working closely with colleagues at UCLH and homeless health organisations to ensure my research is practical and beneficial to homeless and Inclusion Health populations.
How are you improving the health of the public?
I am working to improve the health of the public through teaching, research, and service. I led the design of the new online MPH programme to ensure that it is comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and health inequalities focussed. A key aim of this programme is to teach students about real-world impact through the involvement of people with lived experience of public health problems and through hearing directly from public health practitioners, policy makers, and advocates. Teaching future generations of international public health professionals has the potential to make a big impact to the health of the public globally as they graduate and move on to their future careers in public health.
In my Inclusion Health research and service work, I am seeking to improve the health of society's most vulnerable and marginalised populations – such as those affected by homelessness, drug use, sex work, and incarceration. I work with teams who are aiming to improve understanding of the needs of these populations and to develop solutions to the complex, intersectional problems that these groups face. Again, the involvement of people with lived experience is key to this work and I have developed innovative partnerships and methods to work with these groups. Involvement and co-production has many benefits to both those involved, such as increasing capacity and giving a voice to those who are seldom heard, and to wider populations through the improvement of services and health outcomes.
What do you find most interesting or enjoyable about your work?
It is the people that I work with that I find most enjoyable. My work is highly interdisciplinary and so I get to meet people from all walks of life, such as students and academics from lots of different disciplines, policy makers, healthcare professionals, people with lived experience, advocates, artists, performers, publishers, funders, and many others. I am continuously inspired and energised by the interactions I have with some truly fantastic colleagues.
You have been at the heart of developing UCL’s new cross-disciplinary online Master of Public Health (MPH) programme. Which elements of the MPH programme are you most excited about and why?
There are so many things that excite me about the MPH that it is hard to choose. I would say my top three are: 1) the involvement of people with lived experience in a deliberate and meaningful way throughout the whole programme; 2) the involvement of guest speakers from across UCL and externally to bring a truly interdisciplinary and practical perspective to the theory and practice of public health; and 3) the inclusive and global nature of the programme which will allow students to join us from all around the world, including those with work and caring responsibilities, without the financial and logistical barriers of face-to-face programmes.
Do you have any advice for prospective students who may be interested in applying to the Master of Public Health MPH at UCL?
I would just say go for it! Public health is a fabulous career choice with endless opportunities. It offers the chance to be able to make a difference to whole populations and to work with fascinating people on a huge range of problems, such as climate change, pandemics, inequalities, obesity, food insecurity, mental health, ageing populations, and so much more. We also have two Public Health Impact scholarships available which will cover the full cost of the programme fees.
What's next on the research horizon for you?
I’m working on finishing up my PhD this year as well as co-editing the first textbook on Inclusion Health. Looking ahead, we are hoping to get an Inclusion Health theme funded as part of the most recent NIHR Biomedical Research Council bid, and if successful, I will be co-leading work to improve electronic data systems for Inclusion Health populations to help make these invisible populations visible within health data. I also have a couple of other Inclusion Health grants as a co-investigator in the pipeline looking at novel housing solutions and improving GP registration for people experiencing homelessness.
If you could make one change in the world today, what would it be?
This is a difficult question with the ‘permacrisis’ the world is facing today. As I write this, we are heading into a forecast of record high temperatures of 40 degrees next week with a national emergency declared because of the serious risks to health. I am particularly concerned for people experiencing homelessness, with their limited access to shelter and water, and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with disabilities in these extreme weather conditions. And these events are only becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change. So, if I could make one change in the world today, I would mobilise governments, businesses, and the whole of the public to take serious action against the climate crisis to protect the health of the public and the planet.