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Public Health Research Priorities For The Future

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The last century of innovative public health discoveries has led most of the world’s population to lead longer, healthier lives. Yet, the future holds some of the greatest public health challenges in mankind’s history. Global disparities in health; medication safety; climate change; epidemics of obesity and diabetes; an aging world demographic; and emerging infections all represent problems requiring scientific solutions. The solutions to these problems, like the solutions to those in the last century that contributed so greatly to our quality of life, will require paradigm-shifting innovation.

To maximize individual innovative potential, one strategy is formal instruction in the methods of innovative thinking. Teaching innovative thinking is rarely integrated into science training. However 40 years of accumulated evidence suggests that formal instruction results in improved thinking skills. I describe here some of the methods integrated into a course for graduate and professional health science students entitled Innovative Thinking. The curriculum consists of three components: recognizing and finding alternatives to habitual cognitive patterns; learning to use tools that enhance idea generation and originality; and harmonizing divergent thinking with the process of convergent thinking that is central to the scientific method.

To build more innovative environments, institutions can promote team science, fund staged scientific designs that are heavy on early prototypes, reward and grow the training programs of past innovators, and become less risk averse.

Although public health has accomplished much, it must continue to battle major, growing causes of disease and disability. Innovation is the engine of scientific discovery. Releasing the great potential for discovery in all of us must be central to forwarding health and prosperity in the world.


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Correspondence to Roberta B. Ness MD, MPH.

Additional information

Recommended Citation: Ness RB. Public Health Research Priorities for the Future. Public Health Reviews. 2011;33:225–39.

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Ness, R.B. Public Health Research Priorities For The Future. Public Health Rev 33, 225–239 (2011) doi:10.1007/BF03391629

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Key Words

  • Scientific training
  • innovation
  • disparities
  • environment
  • obesity
  • aging