The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced the establishment of an $80 million Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program (PHIT Workforce Program) to strengthen U.S. public health informatics and data science.
As part of this launch, ONC is inviting college and universities—particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs)—to apply for funding through a consortium that will develop the curriculum, recruit and train participants, secure paid internship opportunities, and assist in career placement at public health agencies, public health-focused non-profits or public health-focused private sector or clinical settings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in our public health reporting and data analysis, particularly around race and ethnicity-specific data. Some of these gaps can be attributed to limited technological infrastructure and chronic underfunding of the staff needed to support public health data reporting at the state and local levels. Federal efforts to center equity in the COVID-19 response and future public health responses will be improved by robust data collection and reporting around infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates, as well as underlying health and social vulnerabilities, that is disaggregated by race and ethnicity, age, gender, and other key variables.
The PHIT Workforce Program aims to train more than 4,000 individuals over a four-year period through an interdisciplinary approach in public health informatics and technology. Under the PHIT Workforce Program, ONC will award up to $75 million to cooperative agreement recipients and use the remaining $5 million to support the program’s overall administration. Award recipients will need to ensure their training, certificate, degree, and placement programs are sustainable to create a continuous pipeline of diverse public health information technology professionals.
“The limited number of public health professionals trained in informatics and technology was one of the key challenges the nation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “This new funding will help to address that need by supporting the efforts of minority serving institutions and other colleges and universities across the nation to educate and launch individuals into public health careers.”
The notice of funding opportunity for the Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program reflects ongoing work by ONC and other HHS agencies as part of the President’s Executive Order on Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats. The Executive Order calls for creating and sustaining a public health workforce capable of adequately and equitably performing community-based testing to enable the nation to better respond to future pandemics and other biological threats.