For National Minority Health Month, I want to raise an issue that is vital to improve the health and health equity of our Nation: that is, the development of a public health workforce that reflects the diversity of the U.S. population. In relation to HIV, it is critical that we ensure a workforce that has the capability to care for all people living with HIV. This means our workforce needs to be sufficient in numbers, exceptionally trained, and diverse and inclusive to ensure not only expertise in care but also care that is free from stigma, prejudice, and fear and is built on a foundation of trust.
One effort in which CDC participates to help promote racial/ethnic diversity and proficiency in the public health professions is Project: IMHOTEP. This program began in 1982 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and is sponsored by the CDC Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE).
The Project involves an 11-week summer internship program for college juniors and seniors and recent college graduates from minority populations who have an interest in a career in the public health sciences. Students accepted into the program not only take classes in subjects such as public health, biostatistics, epidemiology, occupational safety, bioethics, and science writing and presentation, but also engage in community service. This is followed by a 9-week research internship at CDC or a partner institution that provides them with skill-building opportunities in conducting literature searches, data collection and analysis, oral presentation, and the production of a scientific manuscript.
A recent review showed that from 1982-2010 the Project trained over 480 students, of whom roughly 90% were non-Hispanic blacks. Almost two thirds of these have reported current or former employment in the public health sector. But there is much more to do.
Minorities, and in particular black men, face a disproportionate burden of diseases such as HIV, but are under-represented among public health professionals. Pre-professional programs like Project: IMHOTEP and other related programs at CDC are working to expand the educational pipeline and diversify the public health workforce. A workforce which more closely represents the population promises to expand access to care, improve health education and communication, and enhance research and policy devoted to reducing health disparities.
We need more individuals from minority populations to enter the public health workforce. I hope you will help. Take time to consider what can be done to grow and develop this very basic prevention tool – our public health and health care workforce. I encourage you to participate in the many ways available currently and develop new ones to help train our Nation’s next generation of public health professionals.