Public health workforce development and addressing racism
Background: In the United States, racial health disparities continue to be a stark example of health inequities, those health differences that are avoidable, unnecessary, and unjust. Despite policy changes, the systems-level transformations needed to ensure equitable health have not been realized. Significant gaps in health outcomes remain for Black people compared to White people. There is a growing recognition that a greater understanding of and ability to address racism and its effects within the public health workforce is needed. Objective: The overall goal of this dissertation is to delineate gaps between the needs of the public health workforce to advance racial health equity and the training provided by one school of public health in preparing this workforce. This requires an understanding of the expectations of employers; the current curriculum’s inclusion of content on health equity, race, and racism; as well as the facilitators and barriers to faculty delivering such content. The longer-term goal of this work is to inform multi-level changes within schools of public health that will better prepare Master of Public Health (MPH) students to understand and address racial health inequities as members of the public health workforce, thus improving health equity at the population level. Methods: The study used mixed methods. Data was collected from two participant groups – leaders in New Orleans public health organizations and faculty at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine (SPHTM) – and documents associated with the foundational curriculum. Results: The foundational curriculum at SPHTM includes few references to racism. Faculty overall indicate a knowledge of racial health equity and an interest in teaching about it, but do not feel prepared to do so. Public health practitioners in New Orleans described the importance of a racial health equity lens combined with public health skills and provided several ideas for incorporating such in the classroom. Conclusions: Findings indicate there are gaps in preparing future members of the public health workforce to address health equity and racism. Possible improvements to the curriculum are suggested, so that SPHTM graduates may more successfully contribute to reducing population-level racial health disparities.