According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six out of 10 people in the U.S. are afflicted with chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. That number is expected to spiral in 2030 when the CDC estimates that approximately 170 million Americans will be living with chronic diseases.
These are startling statistics to say the least, but University of Houston Population Health is helping prepare students for a burgeoning workforce focused on overcoming such health challenges.
UH Population Health rolled out its new minor in Population Health this fall. The interdisciplinary program provides students from all majors with opportunities to advance their knowledge of how social, environmental, economic, political and cultural factors impact the health and quality of life of individuals and communities.
According to the minor’s director Quinn Valier, this versatile minor perfectly complements a range of majors at UH. Likewise, it prepares students for careers across multiple sectors, including health care, business, social work, education, nonprofit organizations, government, and many others.
“The idea behind population health is that health is a social phenomenon,” said Valier, who also serves as director of student engagement for UH Population Health. “That’s why it is open to students from all academic backgrounds. Population health very much impacts so many areas of our social existence that it can pair with any discipline and any major at the University.”
Based within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences’ sociology department, the minor requires the successful completion of 15 hours of interdisciplinary courses. These include Introduction to Population Health taught by Marino Bruce, director of UH Population Health Collaboratories and associate dean for research at the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.
Introduction to Population Health is the flagship course for the minor, Bruce said. Through this course, students can view the concept of population health through several different lenses.
“The class provides students with an overview of the many dimensions of population health,” Bruce said. “It allows students to see that health-related issues are not simply rooted within medicine, nursing, or STEM. Population health is multifaceted, and no matter their major, no matter their academic background, UH students have the potential to effect positive and healthy changes in their communities.”
Bruce’s students will ultimately put what they’ve learned to the test. In November, his class will be tasked with addressing an actual population health case study. Students will be divided into teams and develop solutions to health issues affecting the community. They will then present their work during the University’s first Population Health competition complete with a panel of professionals and faculty assessing their work.
Other courses in the minor include Social Demography and Health Disparities in Society. Students must also complete nine hours of interdisciplinary courses that address the following topics: Population Health Science, Population Health Equity and Population Health Analytics and Informatics.
Both Valier and Bruce concur that all classes within the minor can prepare students for careers that utilize the very principles of population health. These include professions in health care, business, social services, research, public administration, education, housing, and transportation.
UH Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Diane Z. Chase also agrees that the minor is an important addition to the University’s academic offerings.
“Innovation is at the very core of the University of Houston’s academic enterprise,” Chase said. “This minor, which is among the first of its kind in Texas, reflects our commitment to programs that meet the needs of the workforce and the community. It also further demonstrates UH’s role as a leader in preparing students for careers in both health and health care.”
UH Population Health launched in 2022 with the goal to drive discovery to advance quality of life in Houston and beyond. Led by UH Chief Population Health Officer Bettina Beech, the initiative is involved in several projects aimed at enhancing health and well-being.
These include "We've Got Next," which helps educate communities of color on the importance of the COVID-19. Likewise, UH Population Health was recently named Jackson Heart Study Vanguard Center with exclusive data related to cardiovascular health in African American communities. It also is involved with #Walk30, a citywide effort to bolster physical activity (working with Fit Houston and the Texas Heart institute)
UH Population Health also was part of a $50 million National Institutes of Health Grant (along with the University of North Texas Health Science Center) to coordinate the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Researcher Diversity (AIM-AHEAD). AIM-AHEAD will bring together experts in community engagement, artificial intelligence/machine learning, health equity research, data science training and data infrastructure.