Program Targets Disadvantaged Youth for Careers in Public Health

by October 12, 2009

The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health has received a three-year, $3 million grant to prepare kids for careers in public health. The Health Careers Opportunity Program: Pathways to Health Professions, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will target disadvantaged students from elementary school through college for careers in the health professions. It is a part of the UIC Urban Health Program.

UIC, in collaboration with Chicago State University, has formed partnerships with 20 K-12 schools located in health professional shortage areas on the south and west sides of Chicago.

These areas lack credentialed public health professionals whose work can improve the health of entire communities and reduce infant mortality, according to Dr. Shaffdeen Amuwo, associate dean of the UIC School of Public Health and part-time project director of the grant. In disadvantaged communities, the absence of public health professionals also contributes to health disparities and access to quality health care.

“The idea is to pique the student’s interest in the health professions and give them the training to be more competitive to enter programs to become health scientists, professors in public health, and health practitioners,” said Amuwo, a community health expert.

Elementary, middle, and high school students in the program have access to education, research training, and mentoring opportunities through public health assemblies, curriculum, public health science clubs and academic enrichment programs throughout the year.

“We provide a pathway to the health professions and encourage students to do well in the courses that matter most, such as writing, quantifying, mathematics and science,” said Amuwo.

The program also addresses challenges faced by inner-city students who are confronted with issues of violence, gangs and academic issues.

Students in grades 6 through 12 are eligible to participate in a six-week intensive summer Public Health Institute and a 30-week Public Health Saturday College to enrich their academic experiences and skills in algebra, biology, writing and social development, and expose them to public health research.

“We keep them off the street, put them in an academic environment, and expose them to people who are succeeding and people who look like them,” said Amuwo.

College students who have a specific interest in public health receive GRE preparations, work in labs, and are paired with alumni, professors, community, city, state and federal agencies to complete a 10-week summer internship as they prepare to enter graduate programs in public health.

“Being in an urban area, being in a health professions shortage area, it allows us to say ‘Look college students, you can be successful because there are many successful people from your own community.'”

Most importantly, they must be willing to work in a health profession when they finish, said Amuwo.

“In order to bring a child from an impoverished neighborhood to the level by which he or she can have a Ph.D, or M.P.H., or M.D., we need to expose them to opportunity, make sure they don’t get shot, make sure that they don’t commit crimes themselves, make sure they are protected, and make sure they are resilient,” said Amuwo. “To that end, we also look for other funding opportunities to complement the project.”

UIC ranks among the nation’s top 50 universities in federal research funding and is Chicago’s largest university with 25,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

For more information about UIC, visit

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