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
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
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
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (901-678-4514), or visit the
program's Web site at http://www.memphis.edu/pubh/.
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.