Master of Public Health Program at The University of Memphis.
Public health (Management)
Wellness programs (Service introduction)
Infants (Patient outcomes)
Infants (Demographic aspects)
Levy, Marian
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Name: Business Perspectives Publisher: University of Memphis Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, regional Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 University of Memphis ISSN: 0896-3703
Date: Summer-Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 1
Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 366 Services introduction Advertising Code: 57 New Products/Services Computer Subject: Company business management; Company service introduction
Product Code: 8000120 Public Health Care; 9005200 Health Programs-Total Govt; 9105200 Health Programs NAICS Code: 62 Health Care and Social Assistance; 923 Administration of Human Resource Programs; 92312 Administration of Public Health Programs
Organization: University of Memphis
Geographic Scope: Mississippi Geographic Code: 1U6MS Mississippi

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We know the facts: the health status of the residents of the Mississippi Delta is among the worst in the nation. According to a 2009 report the Trust for America's Health, three of the four states with the hi obesity rates in the nation are located in the Mississippi Delta; Mississippi is ranked Alabama second, and Tennessee fourth. Poor nutrition and sedentary increasing our risk for developing major disease, including type 2 diabetes tension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer. As a case in point, Tennessee rates for adult diabetes are third worst in the country, and over one-third all adults in the state are hypertensive.

Our public health workforce faces many challenges: clean air and water, safe food and workplaces, and prevention of infectious and chronic diseases. The profession must be ready to confront increasingly complex challenges, including bioterrorism, pandemics, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes of the magnitude of Katrina.

Yet another indication of a critical public health need is found in infant mortality rates. Tennessee has the third highest infant mortality rates and the fifth highest preterm and low birth weight rates in the nation. Infant mortality (death of an infant before one year of age) is often used as a proxy measure for health status and for overall social development of a society.

Closer to home, Memphis has the highest infant mortality rate among the nation's 60 largest cities. Data from 2006 indicate the rate in Shelby County (13.8 infants/1,000 live births) is more than twice the national average (6.6/1,000) and accounts for 28 percent of the state's infant mortalities. Of special note in Shelby County is the racial disparity shown in these rates, with the infant mortality rate of blacks being nearly three times that of whites.

In August 2007, the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University of Memphis was initiated to address these concerns. The MPH program integrates the academic study of public health theory with principles of public health practice in order to prevent disease, promote healthy lifestyles, and protect the community. Faculty engage in innovative, community-based, participatory research to identify best practices, inform public policy, and advocate for the underserved.

The MPH program is structured to meet accreditation standards of the Council on Education for Public Health. Accordingly, the curriculum features concentrations in the five core discipline domains: Biostatistics, Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Health Policy and Management, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The program prepares practitioners to address public health concerns of the metropolitan Mid-South and throughout the Delta. Students participate in research projects focusing on infant mortality, tobacco control, obesity prevention, health equity, and refugee resettlement.

The MPH program enjoys a strong relationship with the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, as reflected in the monthly roundtable series "Public Health Academic Practice Bridges." Academicians from the University of Memphis and public health practitioners share insights in research and best practices. Topics have included bioinformatics, geographic information systems (GIS), international tobacco control research, HIV prevention, and community health promotion for vulnerable populations. The MPH program has also partnered with the Health Department to spearhead community discussions based on the PBS documentary series Unnatural Causes, which investigates the sources of our alarming socioeconomic and racial disparities in health. Additionally, the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department serves as the primary location for MPH students' practicum experience. To date, student practicum experiences have served in the areas of HIV prevention, breastfeeding, immunization, TB control, social determinants of health, and emergency preparedness.

Our faculty members sit on the Advisory Committee for the Division of Minority Health and Disparity Elimination to develop the State Plan to Address Health Disparities; in April 2009, the MPH hosted the Tennessee Department of Health's Town Hall meeting to obtain community input on Tennessee's 2009 Disparity Plan. Similarly, our faculty members have worked in collaboration with researchers at East Tennessee State University in the Tennessee Stroke Registry, designed to reduce stroke burden among the underserved in Tennessee. Epidemiologists serve on the Delta States Stroke Network Data Committee to reduce stroke morbidity and mortality in the minority populations of a six-state region.

Another strength of the MPH program is its emphasis on cultural competence to meet the needs of our changing demographics. In partnership with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the MPH program offers a Health Care Interpreter Certificate Program each semester at the University of Memphis for bilingual-bicultural individuals. Courses are offered in Basic and Advanced Interpreting. Professionally-trained medical interpreters not only increase access to healthcare for those with limited English proficiency, but also facilitate patient-provider communication, leading to better diagnosis and treatment, as well as patient adherence. For two consecutive years, the MPH program partnered with the Tennessee Association for Medical Interpreters to host a national training conference to facilitate advanced interpreter skills.

An important initiative in the area of environmental health involves our partnership across campus with the Herff College of Engineering as part of the Center for Biofuel Energy & Sustainable Technologies (BEST). BEST was initiated with funding from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation to the Department of Mechanical Engineering, with the mission of promoting alternative fuel sources, such as biofuel. A Biofuel Production Unit has been developed to recycle used cafeteria cooking oil into fuel for campus vehicles. Replacing conventional diesel with B20 (20 percent biodiesel blended with 80 percent conventional) can significantly reduce harmful emissions: particulates by 15 percent, hydrocarbons by 20 percent, CO by 12 percent, and CO2 by 16 percent. This is especially important to Memphis, ranked as the fifth worst city in the U.S. for people who have asthma (2008 Asthma and Allergy Foundation report). MPH's role is to spearhead BEST'S community education and outreach to promote alternate energy use and environmental responsibility. As part of this mission, BEST will sponsor "Sustainable Technologies Awareness Day" at the University of Memphis on Tuesday, October 6, 2009. This campus-wide free event is designed to encourage environmental awareness, inquiry, and activism among students, faculty, and staff. It will feature more than 40 eco-friendly initiatives developed by the University and its community partners.

MPH students also contribute to several community projects, conducting research in collaboration with Memphis City Schools' Coordinated School Health Program, Shelby County Mayor's Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, Shelby County Community Immunization Coalition, Shelby County Tobacco-Free Coalition, the Refugee Empowerment Program, and the Adoption Center of the Mid-South. A funded initiative involves Sista to Sista in 38109, a project to reduce the risk of HIV transmission among black women. Sista to Sista is an evidence-based, best practices program endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as effective in reducing HIV risk. The Sista acronym stands for Sisters Informing Sisters about Topics on AIDS. The MPH program partnered with the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department and Bloomfield Urban Ministries in the application. In 2008, funding was received from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and continuation funding was recently awarded by the United Way to extend HIV prevention outreach to high risk populations in 2010.

It is clear that Public Health interventions are cost effective. For every dollar spent on childhood immunization, $29 is saved in the prevention of medical costs, parental work loss, and lost earnings from disability. In the case of seat belts, over the last quarter-century, seat belts have prevented 135,000 fatalities and 3.8 million injuries, representing a savings of $585 billion in medical and other costs. Tennessee has the fifth highest rate of adult obesity in the nation and fourth highest rate for adolescent obesity, costing the state 1.8 billion dollars per year in healthcare expenditures.

The mission of the University of Memphis' Public Health program is to improve quality of life in the Delta by reducing chronic disease, protecting the environment, and promoting healthy communities. Investing in our work yields healthy returns.

Master of Public Health (MPH) Program

For more information concerning the Master of Public Health Program at the University of Memphis contact Dr. Marian Levy by e-mail ( or telephone (901-678-4514), or visit the program's Web site at

by Marian Levy, Dr. P.H., R. D., Associate Professor and Director, Master of Public Health Program, The University of Memphis

Marian Levy, Dr.P.H., R.D.

Dr. Levy is Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Memphis. Dr. Levy received her doctorate in public health from UCLA. A registered dietitian, she has conducted several research initiatives to reduce pediatric obesity, increase access to care, and reduce health disparities. As a consultant to the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, she developed the Pandemic Influenza Response Plan for Memphis and Shelby County. Her research interests include cultural competence, Latino health, community-based participatory research, emergency preparedness, and sustainable energy. She is also on faculty at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in the College of Dentistry. Dr. Levy received the Shelby County Mayor's 2008 Ruby R. Wharton Award in the area of Race Relations.
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