Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Addressing health and disparities in communities

By Shannon McMorrow, interim director of Master of Public Health, UIndy

Good health. Unlike the majority of developed countries in the world, it’s not considered an inalienable right guaranteed in the United States.  However, at the very least, every American should at least have a fighting chance to achieve it.

The reality is that there are disparities in the U.S. on many levels: income, education and certainly health.

Many who work in the nonprofit world, especially in social services, come face-to-face with these disparities on a daily basis. Eliminating them is not an easy task as one disparity tends to feed upon another.

Those who live in poverty -- some 48 million Americans -- may have fewer opportunities for education. Those with little education may have fewer opportunities to climb out of poverty. And both groups may be at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing healthcare, healthy environments and making healthy choices.

It’s the latter problem that a new master’s program at the University of Indianapolis is trying to remedy. UIndy is the only university in the Midwest to offer a Master of Public Health degree in health disparities.

The need to understand and address health disparities is great – and growing.

One example: Indiana ranks 41st out of 50 states for overall health and 44th  for the number of adults who smoke. According to the United Health Foundation, 37.2 percent of Hoosiers who make less than $25,000 are smokers. As income levels rise, the percentage of smokers falls. Only 14.5 percent of Hoosiers with incomes greater than $75,000 smoke.

What might be the root causes of these facts? How can we change these realities and root causes? This is part of the mission of UIndy’s program, to analyze these questions, looking at the intersection of factors – physical and social environments, social inequities based on gender and race, genetics -- and implement programs and policies to improve health disparities.

Centered on the core public health values of community collaboration and social justice, the program combines intensive professional practice experiences with academic coursework preparation that includes current public health knowledge in conjunction with community-based projects. The applied public health curricula at UIndy will provide students with the ability to understand and use evidence to positively have an impact on the community’s health.

UIndy's MPH classes are predominantly online, with only three of the core courses requiring an on-campus weekend. The program also requires one week spent at the university during the first summer of the student’s program. This hybrid format makes working and going to school a reasonable option and prepare students for a multitude of positions and careers in public health.
New MPH cohorts begin each fall. If you are interested in learning more about the Master of Public Health at UIndy, please visit uindy.edu/health-sciences/mph or call (317) 788-4909.

Shannon McMorrow, Ph.D., is the interim director of UIndy’s Master of Public Health program. She has more than 10 years of experience as a community health educator in diverse and multidisciplinary settings across the U.S., Belize and Uganda. Her doctoral studies centered on understanding the implications of media coverage of HIV/AIDS in Kenya for community health education practices.

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