To Maureen Lichtveld, M.D., M.P.H., rebuilding the nation’s public health workforce is akin to rebuilding a home. And when a house has been gutted – whether by fire or a pandemic – the first priority is ensuring a solid foundation.
Shoring up that foundation is exactly what Lichtveld, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, plans to tackle with a new five-year, $3.5 million award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund up to 50 CDC John R. Lewis Undergraduate Public Health Scholars from minority communities for eight intensive weeks each summer of learning and practicing public health.
“We are making a long-term investment in diversifying the public health workforce,” Lichtveld said. “The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the health inequities that plague our nation. Fixing that means training a public health workforce that is from the communities they will serve and making sure that the principles of health equity run through everything they learn and do.”
Lichtveld and her team are opening the program to undergraduate students nationally at community colleges with two-year programs and juniors and seniors in four-year colleges, specifically recruiting from academic institutions that primarily educate Black or Hispanic students.
Pitt Diverse Undergrads releaseThe students will be taught the principles of public health by the school’s faculty and embark on a research project that will embed them in an Allegheny County institution tackling a public health-related problem.
“We have over 20 foundations identified that are excited to partner with our students,” Lichtveld said. “Their main focus areas account for the greatest public health challenges in the Pittsburgh region: maternal and child health, environmental justice, and climate and health.”
The projects that students will be helping to address include Allegheny County’s high rates of maternal mortality among Black mothers; pollution issues related to shale gas and factories, as well as legacy pollution from industry; and chronic health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are exacerbated by rising temperatures.
Lichtveld admitted to an ulterior motive, beyond this program: “We hope that, through living on campus and working in Pittsburgh, these students will choose to enroll at Pitt Public Health to complete their undergraduate degree through our new bachelor’s of science in public health program or go on to earn their master’s or doctorate degrees with our world-renowned faculty.”