Master of Public Health Program at the University of Memphis

By Levy, Marian | Business Perspectives, Summer-Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Master of Public Health Program at the University of Memphis


Levy, Marian, Business Perspectives


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We know the facts: the health status of the residents of the Mississippi Delta is among the worst in the nation. According to a 2009 report the Trust for America's Health, three of the four states with the hi obesity rates in the nation are located in the Mississippi Delta; Mississippi is ranked Alabama second, and Tennessee fourth. Poor nutrition and sedentary increasing our risk for developing major disease, including type 2 diabetes tension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer. As a case in point, Tennessee rates for adult diabetes are third worst in the country, and over one-third all adults in the state are hypertensive.

Our public health workforce faces many challenges: clean air and water, safe food and workplaces, and prevention of infectious and chronic diseases. The profession must be ready to confront increasingly complex challenges, including bioterrorism, pandemics, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes of the magnitude of Katrina.

Yet another indication of a critical public health need is found in infant mortality rates. Tennessee has the third highest infant mortality rates and the fifth highest preterm and low birth weight rates in the nation. Infant mortality (death of an infant before one year of age) is often used as a proxy measure for health status and for overall social development of a society.

Closer to home, Memphis has the highest infant mortality rate among the nation's 60 largest cities. Data from 2006 indicate the rate in Shelby County (13.8 infants/1,000 live births) is more than twice the national average (6.6/1,000) and accounts for 28 percent of the state's infant mortalities. Of special note in Shelby County is the racial disparity shown in these rates, with the infant mortality rate of blacks being nearly three times that of whites.

In August 2007, the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University of Memphis was initiated to address these concerns. The MPH program integrates the academic study of public health theory with principles of public health practice in order to prevent disease, promote healthy lifestyles, and protect the community. Faculty engage in innovative, community-based, participatory research to identify best practices, inform public policy, and advocate for the underserved.

The MPH program is structured to meet accreditation standards of the Council on Education for Public Health. Accordingly, the curriculum features concentrations in the five core discipline domains: Biostatistics, Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Health Policy and Management, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The program prepares practitioners to address public health concerns of the metropolitan Mid-South and throughout the Delta. Students participate in research projects focusing on infant mortality, tobacco control, obesity prevention, health equity, and refugee resettlement.

The MPH program enjoys a strong relationship with the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, as reflected in the monthly roundtable series "Public Health Academic Practice Bridges." Academicians from the University of Memphis and public health practitioners share insights in research and best practices. Topics have included bioinformatics, geographic information systems (GIS), international tobacco control research, HIV prevention, and community health promotion for vulnerable populations. The MPH program has also partnered with the Health Department to spearhead community discussions based on the PBS documentary series Unnatural Causes, which investigates the sources of our alarming socioeconomic and racial disparities in health. Additionally, the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department serves as the primary location for MPH students' practicum experience. To date, student practicum experiences have served in the areas of HIV prevention, breastfeeding, immunization, TB control, social determinants of health, and emergency preparedness.

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