Female Caucasian teacher with male and female college student looking at computers.

Rhonda Spencer-Hwang, center, created a new doctorate program aimed at reducing burnout in public health professionals.

Loma Linda University School of Public Health has unveiled an innovative initiative introducing a new Doctorate of Public Health in epidemiology program to reduce the rate of burnout among public health professionals.

The new program aims to equip aspiring public health professionals with the knowledge and tools to foster resilience, stress management, and overall well-being among its students by integrating the wisdom gleaned from centenarian healthcare professionals.

University leaders are hopeful that this new approach to healthcare education will lead the way in revolutionizing the field of public health, equipping health professionals worldwide to face the industry's challenges and pressures.

The new doctorate program was created by Rhonda Spencer-Hwang, DrPH, professor at the School of Public Health, after dedicating a decade to studying centenarian healthcare professionals in the Loma Linda blue zone. Her research focused on understanding how centenarians maintained resilience despite enduring major infectious disease outbreaks like the Spanish flu and the Great Depression.

Her research revealed a link between adverse childhood experiences (ACE's) and life expectancy. According to a study on ACEs and the risk of premature mortality, having six or more ACE’s could shorten a person's life by two decades. However, all the centenarians she interviewed had faced at least four ACEs, further emphasizing their extraordinary resilience in facing their challenges.

The insights learned from these centenarians have showcased the importance of incorporating their wisdom into the new epidemiology program. By understanding how they overcame stress and hardships, the program seeks to equip future public health professionals with the tools to combat burnout effectively and lead fulfilling, healthy lives in their chosen fields.

Spencer-Hwang said she sought to understand how centenarians coped with stress and incorporated their invaluable advice into the new epidemiology program.

“These centenarians had at least four ACEs, and one had six,” said Spencer-Hwang. “When I started building this epidemiology program, I knew we had to take what we learned from our centenarians and embed it in the program.”

With burnout affecting public health professionals and other healthcare professions worldwide, the need for effective interventions has become increasingly demanding. However, the premise of this program lies in focusing on changing the approach to address burnout in the industry rather than solely offering interventions.

"When you are standing at the fire repeatedly day in, day out, and your schedules are full, no amount of medication, yoga, or breathing technique will help you recover,” Spencer-Hwang said. “I am invested in the long-term. Preparing you. You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

Interested individuals can visit Loma Linda University's official website for more information about the program.