Health Promotion Trends In Medical Wellness
One-On-One With Robert Karch, PhD
George J. Pfeiffer
Publisher and Senior
Medical Wellness spoke recently
with Dr. Robert Karch, founder and department chairman of American
University’s internationally acclaimed health promotion program.
Dr. Karch shares his insights on health promotion trends and their
role in the medical wellness model.
For three decades you have been a leader in health promotion from
two perspectives: as an academician and entrepreneur.
these areas changed in the context of health promotion over the
George, I think what has changed most is that health promotion has
grown and matured both as an accepted profession and an academic
discipline. Today, in progressive companies, it is not at all
uncommon to find HR, safety, food services, medical facilities,
union representatives, and other business units all working
together under the umbrella of a worksite health promotion program.
Throughout the years as an academician, my challenge has been
monitoring this maturation process closely and making appropriate
adjustments to our curricula to be sure our students are prepared
for the marketplace. For example, in 1980 our curricula was purely
business and exercise science. Today, while we still have that
content, we also include policy, communications, global health
courses and courses that focus on specific and timely topics.
As an entrepreneur, I have been very fortunate to be at a
progressive university where the leadership has recognized and
embraced a multidisciplinary approach
for this profession. Further, my immersion over the years in
contractual, advisory, and health promotion related business
activities has allowed me to bring “real world” scenarios to the
classroom. As well, I have been able to secure significant external
funding for the University’s continued support of research and
student work-study opportunities.
MW: Many of your graduates have
been recognized as leaders in the field of health promotion. In
general, what qualities have made them so successful?
I am extremely proud of the leadership roles that many of our
graduates have assumed over the years. As you know, during the past
25 years we have admitted approximately 15 students a year into our
two-year master’s program in Health Promotion Management here at
American University. Today we have more than 360 graduates across
the U.S. and in many other countries. I try to maintain regular
contact with our graduates, help where I can with their careers,
and to gain valuable feedback for improving our academic programs.
In addition to meeting the University’s and the program’s academic
standards, I look for qualities in our prospective students that
demonstrate they truly care about people and show an unselfish
desire to help individuals obtain and maintain their optimal level
In my opinion, if those qualities are missing, health
promotion is the wrong career for that person to pursue. Once a
student is admitted, we continue to reinforce those qualities in our
students throughout the program. Most of our graduates recognize
the responsibilities that come with leadership. They understand the
past, while continuing to anticipate, project, and make the
adjustments necessary to be prepared for the future of this
MW: What do you perceive to be the greatest challenge in the
delivery of health care in the United States?
There are a number of real challenges: cost, quality, access, and
affordability of health care services. Although these challenges
are not unique to the United States, the one multifaceted issue that
is of particular concern to me is education.
If health promotion is
going to continue to grow and have the powerful influence on total
health that so many of us believe it can, then, there is a compelling need to develop progressive educational programs in
more universities to prepare both undergraduate and post-graduate
health promotion professionals. At the same time, there is a
critical need to broaden the scope of educational preparation for
our medical students to include a deeper understanding of the
domains of total health beyond the physical.
And finally, it is
essential that we educate the general population. Being
well-informed consumers of health care services empowers people to
be managers of their own health and the health of those for whom
they are responsible.
MW: Has your curriculum changed to reflect that CAM interventions
are gaining more attention as part of an integrative health model?
We try to stay abreast of emerging science that supports new and
alternative approaches for treating and managing
health. Moreover, the management and strategic planning components
of our curriculum stress the importance of including a broad array
of such services when developing and managing health promotion
MW: Are there significant differences between your foreign and
domestic clients on health-related issues?
There are the obvious differences: culture, climate, language, and
time zone,; but surprisingly minimal differences in health status
and disease states.
Unfortunately, during the past several decades
there has been a global unification of such health issues as
cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, stress, depression,
and hypokinetic activity. As a result, the health promotion
challenges are quite similar, particularly in workforce settings.
And, while it’s possible to consider approaches that have been used
in other regions of the world to address those health issues, it is
imperative that specific programmatic initiatives be localized. We
have learned a lot about these challenges and how to face them
through our International Institute for Health Promotion here at
American University, which is augmented by our close working and
sharing relationships with many outstanding health promotion
partners around the world.