A select group of 40 undergraduate and recently graduated college students are spending the summer at UCLA where they’re learning about public health and possible career options within the field.
The students and recent grads are participating in the UCLA Public Health Scholars Training Program, an eight-week, hands-on training program created by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The program, which runs June through August, includes weekly public health seminars and workshops, group excursions, leadership and professional development. The students also spend three days per week in an internship program.
“The idea is to provide educational and field experience opportunities to scholars, and also to foster community among the students, faculty and public health practitioners, which will help the scholars develop a strong connection to public health,” said Dr. Michael Prelip, program director and chair and professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The program is part of the Undergraduate Public Health Scholars program in the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was funded with a five-year, $2.7 million grant. The funding provides summer scholars with housing, stipends, some meals, transportation to and from the program and a trip to the CDC to participate in an annual event with the other four national programs.
Inspiring more undergraduates to consider careers in public health may help replenish a declining public health work force. In the U.S., a minimum of 250,000 new public health workers will be needed by 2020 to fill gaps created by retirement and other turnover, according to the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health.
“Not only is there a need to increase the workforce, but also its diversity,” said Ms. Lindsay Rice, program manager of the UCLA Public Health Scholars Training Program.
While the U.S. Census Bureau projects that underrepresented minorities will compose 40 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, the current public health workforce lacks racial and ethnic diversity. Disparities also persist in the distribution of public health personnel with many rural areas facing significant shortages and challenges accessing care.
As part of the training program, the students are participating in internships with community-based organizations, health systems and government agencies located throughout Los Angeles that are focused on pressing public health issues. The internship supervisors serve as the students’ professional mentors.
UCLA Public Health Scholar Mr. Bryan Okelo, who is about to enter his senior year at Washington University in St. Louis, is currently doing an internship with Community Health Councils, an organization focused on improving the health and well-being of underserved populations. Mr. Okelo is working on an effort to reach out to residents of the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles to educate them about pollution-related health risks faced by their community and ways to make their concerns heard.
He said one of the most valuable parts of the UCLA Public Health Scholars Program has been meeting peers who are equally passionate about public health.
“Participating in this program made me feel like I’m really working toward something that can make a positive difference in the world and I’m not the only one trying to do so,” he said.
An estimated 200 students are expected to participate in the Fielding School program over the course of five years. Learn more about the UCLA Public Health Scholars Training Program.