Preparing Future Leaders: Life Course Model

I have come to appreciate the importance of understanding and monitoring current trends and issues in the field, particularly the emerging Life Course Model (LCM). LCM explains that the health trajectory of an individual depends upon several protective and risk factors throughout the lifespan. Beyond knowledge of the model, future leaders will need further skills to incorporate LCM into practice.

Shifting focus from treatment to prevention will be important in training future leaders. LCM presents that maximizing protective factors and minimizing risk factors ultimately lead to a more optimal health trajectory. In doing this, illness and disease can be prevented. For example, rather than focusing on obesity treatment, future leaders will need knowledge and skills in obesity prevention to optimize health trajectories. This includes minimizing risk factors, such as maternal obesity, high birth weight, and formula-feeding, and maximizing protective factors, such as breastfeeding, physical activity, and healthy eating. This approach requires involvement from many disciplines, indicating prevention will require a comprehensive health care team.

Interdisciplinary team building is another important skill needed for future leaders if they are to incorporate LCM into practice. In addition to having an appreciation and understanding of other disciplines, leaders must have the skills to collaborate with other disciplines to work together to maximize health trajectories. In the example of obesity prevention, coordination of all disciplines involved will be needed, including primary care providers, gynecologists, obstetricians, pediatricians, lactation consultants, physical activity specialists, dietitians, families, community members, and many others.

Finally, future leaders will need policymaking and advocacy skills, such as using data to frame messages, utilizing key stakeholders, analyzing the impact of policies on health trajectories, and understanding legal and political systems to affect change. Policymaking and advocacy skills will need to be developed for application at the organizational, community, state, and national levels. In the obesity prevention example, leaders will need policy and advocacy skills to facilitate interdisciplinary team building by changing how organizations think about the health care team and by developing policies that will enable disciplines to work together. Additionally, such skills will form the basis for securing funding from public, private, and non-profit sources and for developing policies that empower professionals to practice prevention in health care.

In incorporating LCM into practice, future leaders will need many new skills; however, focusing on prevention, interdisciplinary team building, and policy and advocacy skills are three main areas for training needs. Professors, mentors, and program directors should consider approaches for building these skills when planning training programs and academic curricula.

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