Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Public Health: Morehouse School of Medicine Set to Launch New Public Health Program

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Public Health: Morehouse School of Medicine Set to Launch New Public Health Program

Article excerpt

Public Health: Morehouse School Of Medicine Set to Launch New Public. Health Program

by B. Denise Hawkins

To hear Dr. Bill Jenkins tell it, being a public health practitioner has the allure of detective work, but without the threat of personal danger.

"[It's about] asking the right questions and often knowing the answers before you ask them," says Jenkins, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and a professor of public health at Atlanta's Morehouse College.

For too long there was little interest in asking "the right questions" when it came to probing the health status of African Americans, argues Jenkins, one of the architects of the first "comprehensive" master of public health program (MPH) to be offered by an historically Black institution -- the Morehouse School of Medicine's Department of Community and Preventive Medicine. The two-year graduate program will enroll its first class in September.

Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, M.D., is president of the medical school.

The historically Black Meharry Medical School offers a master of science degree in public health, but unlike the Morehouse program, it is limited to the training of public health researchers and academicians.

Currently, medical residents from Morehouse, specializing in preventive medicine, do their residency at Emory University's School of Public Health.

A Rocky Road

The MPH program at Morehouse has been years in the making, as has the "volatile history that has existed between the Black community and the nation's public health service," Jenkins says.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, the only interest America's then young public health service had in the African-American community was curbing the spread of infectious diseases from "the ghetto to the larger white community" and reducing the number of births, says Jenkins.

It was not until the mid-1980s that the rocky relationship began to meld into a partnership. During that time, the intervention of Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control, along with a handful of other federal agencies, began to pour much-needed funds into research and services for the African-American community.

Since the early 1970s, when Jenkins began to explore the start-up of a school of public health at an HBCU and watched as the pool of applicants and practitioners made small gains -- but no explosions -- "need" became the guiding force for his efforts.

"We need a Black school of public health because white people don't tend to want to see racism as an etiologic factor of disease, or how African and African-American culture and values affect their health care."

For example, Jenkins says, a small cultural nuance like "sharing," can hold one of the vital links to understanding and stemming the spread of the AIDS virus among some populations of the African-American community. But unfortunately, he says, it has been overlooked. Knowing that African Americans tend to share wine bottles and drug needles more than their white counterparts can have enormous consequences on health, Jenkins adds.

"Asking the questions that no other people would want to ask and having the ability to understand our culture is what our students will do best. That's why this program is so critical," Jenkins maintains.

The program's director, Dr. Noble Meseru, says he's excited about the program's ability to train practitioners who will be concentrated in urban and minority areas to help close the widening gap in the health care of people of color. …

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