Skip to main content

UCI Public Health: “UCI launches new public health informatics and technology training program with an emphasis on diversity among its students”

$7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helped establish the workforce development program

UCI PHIT leadership from left to right: Tim Bruckner, PhD; Yunan Chen, PhD; Kai Zheng, PhD; Sora Tanjasiri, DrPH; and Margaret Schneider, PhD. Not pictured: Marvin Maldonado. Photo credit: UCI ICS.

A workforce training program with an emphasis on public health informatics and technology will launch two new certificate programs this year, adding to its existing summer internship program and a minor degree program. The training program, which is aimed at advancing diversity in the public health field, was created through a partnership between the University of California, Irvine, the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) and OCHIN Inc.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the burgeoning health informatics and technology field has a job growth outlook of 17 percent over the next 10 years. One of only 10 programs of its kind in the country, the UCI Public Health Informatics and Technology Workforce Development Program, or PHIT, was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for nearly $7 million in the fall of 2021.

A pilot internship program took place in the summer of 2022 and program coordinators are accepting applications for the summer 2023 internship, open to UCI undergraduate and graduate students. The PHIT program will also launch two new certificate programs: a Healthcare and Public Health Analytics certificate intended for working professionals and a Public Health Informatics certificate for UCI graduate students, both of which will roll out later this year.

“I enjoyed taking courses in both computer sciences and public health to complete the minor and feel like I have attained a broader knowledge and skillset that will prepare me for the future in the health informatics industry,” said David Su, a UCI undergraduate student and intern in the pilot cohort. “The PHIT Program provided many opportunities for me to grow professionally.”

An inclusive and technologically-competent workforce

The program anticipates that enrollment over the next four years will exceed 445 students and trainees, among whom 300 will graduate by the end of the fourth year. The program anticipates that 5 percent of the students who enroll in and graduate from the program will be Black/African American, 20 percent will be Hispanic/Latinx, and in total, more than 80 percent will be from ethnically diverse groups.

“An inclusive and technologically-competent workforce is crucial to the future of public health,” said Kai Zheng, PhD, FACMI, professor of informatics and emergency medicine at the UCI Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences (ICS) and program director. “We face an urgent need to train a 21st-century public health workforce to use digital tools like social media and mobile health apps to reach vulnerable populations. This program aims to position students for success as they encourage positive behavior change, improve public health messaging and analyze data on the social determinants of health through emerging technology.”

The new graduate certificate program will be offered only to students enrolled in UCI’s Master of Public Health program and other UCI STEM-focused graduate programs.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic makes clear, we face an urgent need to modernize our nation’s public health information infrastructure and harness the power of data to monitor and control the spread of disease,” said Tim Bruckner, PhD, professor of Health, Society and Behavior with the UCI Program in Public Health and a co-director of the PHIT program. “We also need a diverse workforce to address the widening health, technology, and workforce disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The program’s recruitment efforts are grounded in a consortium approach. In addition to the OCHCA and OCHIN Inc.’s involvement, there are 12 other consortium members in California and beyond that represent a wide variety of settings. These include public health agencies, public insurance plans, strategic philanthropies, associations of health systems and community health centers, and networks of health IT professionals. The program’s consortium members, collectively, have over 800 individual sites in nearly all states in the US, providing UCI students rich opportunities for internships, practicum projects, and full-time employment.

With the ensuing momentum and the supporting infrastructures established through the grant, program leadership expects the program to continue beyond its initial federal funding and go on to graduate more than 120 students annually.

Program leadership also includes Sora Park Tanjasiri, DrPH., equity advisor and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and Margaret Schneider, PhD, a researcher, both with the UCI Program in Public Health; Yunan Chen, MBBS, PhD, associate professor of informatics and public health and vice chair of undergraduate studies in the Department of Informatics, ICS; Marvin Maldonado from UCI Engineering and ICS’ Stacey Nicholas Office of Access and Inclusion; Clayton Chau, MD, PhD, director of OCHCA; and Engers Fernandez, MD, vice president of learning and knowledge management at OCHIN Inc.

Originally posted on the UCI Public Health website.