Global collaboration results in a new, structured PhD curriculum in Zambia

Over the past two years, VIGH educational experts have collaborated with faculty leaders at the University of Zambia (UNZA) to design a revised, structured PhD curriculum. The University of Zambia-Vanderbilt Training Partnership for HIV-Nutrition-Metabolic Research (UVP) program supported this effort, and the Faculty Senate and UNZA leadership recently approved the new curriculum. The UVP program continues a multi-decade training collaboration between the University of Zambia School of Medicine/University Teaching Hospital (UNZA/UTH) and the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH).

In January 2020, faculty leaders from UNZA and VIGH held a two-day design workshop to develop a revised, structured PhD curriculum for UNZA students. The impetus for the revised curriculum was spurred in 2016 when a needs assessment conducted among UNZA faculty identified a desire to develop a PhD program model with a structured core curriculum as an alternative to the current "PhD by research" model. Annual brainstorming and planning meetings were held, culminating in this workshop that brought together faculty from five health-related schools at UNZA, including the Schools of Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing Sciences, Public Health, and Veterinary Medicine. 

Working in interdisciplinary teams, faculty spent the last two years identifying strengths and challenges of the current PhD structure and ways to leverage existing resources to create a core PhD curriculum to meet the needs of students from across the health disciplines. Through onsite and virtual meetings, faculty agreed that standard courses for this curriculum would include epidemiology, biostatistics, ethics and philosophy of science and research methodology, and leadership and governance. The curriculum will also include other skills such as academic, grant writing and mentorship. Identified challenges include dedicated on-campus space for students to study and reliable internet access for students and faculty. 

In May 2021, a proposal was finalized and presented at the next Faculty Senate meeting, and it was approved by year's end. Following the approval, the Faculty Senate resolved to adopt the curriculum as a framework for all PhD programs at UNZA. The following steps include designing course templates and identifying faculty from five schools to lead the core courses in the newly structured PhD program. Each school will develop specialization courses and competencies. This PhD model with a structured curriculum will be available for incoming students in the next academic year.

Drs. Sody Munsaka and Selestine Nzala of UNZA led the workshops, and Drs. Marie Martin and Elizabeth Rose of VIGH designed the curriculum. VIGH has remained engaged in this multi-year effort through UVP, which receives funding from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health grant D43TW009744. Dr. Selestine Nzala, Head, Department of Medical Education, University of Zambia School of Medicine and Dr. Douglas Heimburger, Associate Director for Education and Training for VIGH serve as UVP Co-Principal Investigators.