UT Arlington’s new program aims to help public health students address wellness equity

The University of Texas at Arlington new certificate for diversity and equity in public health aims to address issues of health equity through education.

Erin Carlson, director of graduate programs in public health for UT Arlington, said the COVID-19 pandemic has put a new spotlight on racial disparities in care and access. Black and Latino patients have been hospitalized and died from COVID-19 complications in Texas at higher rates than their white counterparts, according to a 2021 report from the Episcopal Health Foundation.

“What I was seeing in the data was the unmet need for health care in our underserved and underfunded communities,” Carlson said. “This had resulted in significant disparities in severe COVID illness, hospitalization, and death.”

The program offers four courses, which include instruction on basic public health knowledge, community health assessments, and race, ethnicity, and healthh. Carlson says it’s for people currently working in health care and students who want to focus their skills to “eliminate health disparities and improve health equity.”

“So that’s something I’m really happy about,” Carlson said. “It’s not just academic knowledge, it’s really the skills needed to actively make positive change in their community.”

Ariel Hall is a recent UT Arlington graduate and community health worker. She says it’s essential for healthcare professionals to practice cultural competence and cultural humility.

“Cultural competence is about recognizing that we’re all different, recognizing that you’re different from me, and I understand that we’re not living the same life,” Hall said. “Cultural humility, which was a new term for me, means that you’re going to make a lifelong commitment to learning about different people and what makes them unique.”

It’s something she uses in her work, when she reaches out to community members and shares information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I learned that it’s really important to listen to communities, to listen to patients and to work with them so that we can help improve their health,” Hall said.

Both Carlson and Hall hope the program will teach students how to identify and address health disparities with input from the community.

“You can’t treat everyone exactly the same, so I think this program will help people learn to empathize, and it will treat them in the best way to serve everyone,” said Lobby.

Classes will be held in the afternoon to accommodate working professionals, and Carlson envisions the program “will improve health equity in DFW and beyond.”

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James C. Tibbs