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Federal Grant Funds State Public-Health Training To Be Overseen by EVMS/ODU Program

A $2.5 million, five-year grant to Eastern Virginia Medical School from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will create a statewide public-health training center aimed at developing a highly trained public-health work force.

The Commonwealth Public Health Training Center (PHTC) is a partnership of the state's graduate programs in public health, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the Virginia Public Health Association (VPHA) and all family medicine residency programs in the commonwealth. The joint EVMS/Old Dominion University (ODU) Graduate Program in Public Health, led by Dr. David O. Matson of the EVMS faculty, will coordinate the new center's efforts. Co-principal investigator for the grant is Dr. Christine C. Matson, chair of the EVMS Department of Family and Community Medicine.

Creation of a unified training and education structure addresses health disparities and strengthens the public-health infrastructure, which is expected to shoulder greater responsibilities following this year's approval of federal health care legislation. Virginia's center also will focus on global health concerns that merit greater research attention.

"Community partnerships are an important key to keeping Virginia healthy," said VDH Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley. "This grant will allow us to collaborate with Eastern Virginia Medical School as we collectively work to ensure our public-health professionals are highly skilled, so that they can meet a wide range of health needs around the state."

All of the center's training activities will include education on health equity, which Dr. Remley said will help the commonwealth focus on populations that experience poorer health outcomes compared to others. "We want to advance health equity for all Virginians, including racially and ethnically diverse communities and those living in communities with few economic resources, either in rural or urban settings," she said.

The center will focus on five core initiatives:

• Providing training for VDH employees throughout Virginia;

• Enhancing the public-health knowledge of family medicine residents;

• Strengthening the education pipeline for the future and current public-health work force;

• Integrating the needs of medically underserved populations into all other training initiatives; and

• Hosting statewide training conferences to promote education and collaboration among public-health professionals.

"We need to have a cadre of highly trained professionals working in the public-health system. Traditionally, a substantial number of those employees have no specific training in the discipline. Our goal is to actively bring training to them," Dr. David Matson said.

Through partnerships between academic centers and public-health leaders in the state, trainees will conduct studies of health issues that typically are not the focus of high-quality research. Since collaboration is essential for effective public-health programs, all of the trainees will work in teams - including groups conducting global-health research. "We believe this cross-disciplinary approach and global and community health exposure enhances the leadership potential for persons completing our training programs," Dr. Matson added.

The associate director of the EVMS/ODU Graduate Program in Public Health, A. James English, said, "I am extremely excited by this opportunity because the public-health manpower is aging and carrying a greater burden each year. Grants like these are needed to support and build public health infrastructure in Virginia." English is an associate professor in ODU's School of Community and Environmental Health.

Ruth Bernheim, president of the VPHA and director of the University of Virginia's Master's of Public Health Program, called the initiative "a remarkable step for public health in Virginia.

"For the first time it brings together the Virginia Public Health Association and its associated master's of public health programs with the VDH and schools of medicine to launch public-health education for the work force. It's an extraordinary bringing together of people to take a major leap forward," she said. "We are grateful to EVMS for providing leadership on this effort."

This article was posted on: September 24, 2010

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