UF receives $2.5 million to establish rural public health training center
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida has received $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop public health workforce education programs and community health projects for rural Florida residents.
The UF College of Public Health and Health Professions is one of 10 public health schools to receive 2011 Public Health Training Center Program grants to support public health worker education in several fields, including environmental health, public health leadership, nutrition and cultural competency. The program funds 37 public health training centers in the United States that provide highly skilled training to 500,000 public health and related health care practitioners.
With support from the grant, the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions has partnered with Florida A&M University’s Institute of Public Health to establish the Rural South Public Health Training Center. The center will serve medically underserved counties in Florida, particularly in northern rural regions of the state, by providing competency-based training for public health workers and internships for MPH students, enhancing public health services and improving community access to services. The center will focus on public health core skills and the skills required to address prevention and management of HIV/AIDS in the rural South.
“The center will identify the needs of the workforce and residents in medically underserved areas and tailor training and services based on those needs, with a special emphasis on needs related to HIV/AIDS,” said project director Mary Peoples-Sheps, senior associate dean for public health at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.
The center will offer free, online continuing education to Florida public health workers, who like many state employees, have seen budgets for professional development and travel trimmed. The distance courses will provide continuing education credits for up to 500 public health workers per year. Those professionals with a bachelor’s degree who are interested in more intensive training may pursue online certificates in public health foundations and in prevention and management of HIV.
Another aim of the Rural South Public Health Training Center is to assess residents’ health needs and conduct community-based projects in collaboration with state and community partners. UF and FAMU Master of Public Health students will help carry out these projects on-site with the support of competitive, paid internships offered by the center.
“By conducting annual needs assessments and developing ongoing and sustainable collaborative projects, the center will develop an infrastructure for student placements that promotes service-based student learning and addresses significant community needs,” Peoples-Sheps said.
In January, the center will launch a collaborative project with UF and FAMU faculty and students and a community faith-based program in Gadsden County, Fla., to address the needs of people who have been recently incarcerated. The center will also implement an in-depth assessment of workforce and service needs for training in HIV/AIDS prevention and management, and a series of online skills-building programs for public health workers.
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Next fall, UF and FAMU will introduce a new graduate certificate in HIV/AIDS prevention and management. The certificate will include five courses that will address the ecology, biology and epidemiology of HIV/AIDS, community-level and pharmaceutical approaches to prevention and management of HIV/AIDS, and health outcomes and access disparities in rural areas. The courses will be available to UF and FAMU Master of Public Health and doctoral students, as well as online participants from anywhere in the world.
“Our newly created Rural South Public Health Training Center is truly a collaboration that engages the collective strengths of our institutions regarding cultural competency in public health training and community-based participatory research with a focus on the health disparity of HIV/AIDS,” said Cynthia Harris, a professor and director of FAMU’s Institute of Public Health. “We look forward to being a model center for meeting the needs of our state and communities.”