Short Writing Assignment Instructions
I. Additional Information and Suggestions
— The premise of this assignment and the suggested title for your essay is:
“What the U.S. Health Care System Can Learn from [Country X]’s Approach to [Health Issue Y]”
— You will supply the country (any country outside of the United States is acceptable) and the health issue (any issue you’d like, with the caution below). The topic is designed to provide an
opportunity for each of you to connect our work in this course to a topic and/or a country that matters a lot to you and to your interest in public health. Please take advantage of this opportunity
to write about your passions—through the lens of our course’s focus on health policy and health systems.
— Regarding the health issue that you select, this short assignment will be much more difficult if you select a very broad topic (such as, “the uninsured,” “the cost of health care,” or “health
care quality”). You’ll likely have more success with a more specific topic like “access to mental health care,” “policies for maternal health,” “financial support for end-of-life care,” etc. There
are countless potential topics that would be extremely well suited to this assignment. If in doubt, ask your TF about your idea before you start writing.
— You will write an essay of no more than 750 words that is intended for an educated but non-specialist reader. The commentary essays that appear on the op-ed page of the New York Times or other
newspapers are good models. Scientists, scholars, policy-makers and other professionals commonly write about their work and their views in these venues, aiming to make complicated concepts and
evidence accessible to a broad readership.
— The most successful essays will do the following: briefly present the policy approaches for the health issue you select in the country you select, explain why and how those approaches might be
relevant to how the U.S. could (or should) approach that issue from a health policy perspective, and identify the major complications (political, legal, cultural, financial, or otherwise) that
might make it challenging to simply import another country’s policy approach to your selected issue to the United States without modifications. Each of these three elements is (roughly) equally
important; you might wish to allocate your space (and words) accordingly.
— Just as you would if you were writing this essay for the New York Times, you should assume that your readers have no particular background knowledge about the country and issue you are
discussing. Think of yourself as the expert—you are!—and share with us what you know and why you think it might offer lessons for the organization, financing, and/or delivery of health care in the
United States.
— Most of you will have to do some research regarding the country and health issue that you select in order to explain it succinctly and accurately. Depending on your country and topic, some
preliminary resources might include The Commonwealth Fund’s International Profiles of Health Care Systems (
2015), other publications from that group, and country reports the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies ( Those will provide system-level insights
for many countries; for other countries and for topic-level information, you will likely need to look elsewhere. The WHO website and PubMed are other potentially valuable resources. Google can be
very useful too, but be sure to scrutinize the quality of sources found through that approach (as you should for any source, no matter how you find it). Because of the length constraints of the
assignment, you’ll need to distill your discussion to its key features and details as you write.
— One deviation from the New York Times op-ed model for this assignment is that you should include references (which newspapers almost never do). At least a few citations are essential for the
first part of the assignment where you present the international example on which you have chosen to focus. The remainder of paper will highlight your own analysis of its relevance to the U.S.
health care system, so citation-worthy material might be less common in those portions. (As was true last time, any citation system (footnotes, endnotes, etc.) is fine; the important point is to
clearly acknowledge the source of any evidence or analysis that is not your own. References do not count toward the 750- word length limit.)

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