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New UT Arlington program aims to help public health students address wellness equity

A professor stands in front of a slide in a classroom, wearing a mask.
Erika Nina Suàrez
/
The University of Texas at Arlington
"Ultimately, we would hope our students earning this certificate will have the knowledge and the skills to actively address health disparities, reduce health disparities, and improve health equity in their community," said Erin Carlson, clinical professor and director of graduate public health programs for UT Arlington. The university is launching a new public health certificate to train students to recognize how social determinants of health affect patients and their health outcomes.

UT Arlington is preparing health care workers to better address equity issues.

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

Erin Carlson, director of graduate public health programs for UT Arlington, said the COVID-19 pandemic put a renewed spotlight on racial disparities in care and access. Both Black and Latino patients were 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 of health care in our underserved and under-resourced communities,” Carlson said. “That had culminated in significant disparities with regard to severe COVID disease, hospitalization and death.”

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

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

Ariel Hall is a recent UT Arlington graduate and a community health worker. She says it’s essential that health care professionals practice cultural competency and cultural humility.

“Cultural competency is recognizing that we’re all different, acknowledging that you are different than I am, and I understand that we don’t live the same life,” Hall said. “Cultural humility, which was a new term for me, means you’re going to have a life-long commitment to actually learning about different people and what makes them unique.”

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

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

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

“You can’t treat everybody the exact same way, so I think this program will help people to learn how to be empathetic, and it’ll treat them how to best serve everybody,” Hall said.

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

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.