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Health Promotion Trends In Medical Wellness

One-On-One With Robert Karch, PhD

2004: Volume 1, Number 2


George J. Pfeiffer

Publisher and Senior Editor, Medical Wellness Journal


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.


Medical Wellness: For three decades you have been a leader in health promotion from two perspectives: as an academician and entrepreneur. 

How have these areas changed in the context of health promotion over the years?

Karch: 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?

Karch: 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 of health.


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 industry.

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?

Karch: 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 programs.

MW: Are there significant differences between your foreign and domestic clients on health-related issues?

Karch: 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.


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