Taking public health to Newark city streets

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Perry Halkitis, dean of Rutgers School of Public Health
Perry Halkitis, dean of Rutgers School of Public Health. Photo: Nick Romanenko.

Many cities have unique health challenges. New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, is one of them. It has a very large and dense population — many residents face marginalization and discrimination and they live in areas with deteriorating infrastructures. Since environments shape behaviors, these factors heighten the occurrence of infectious and chronic diseases.

By 2030, one in three people will live in cities of at least 500,000 inhabitants.

To address these challenges, Rutgers will launch a Masters of Public Health degree program this fall. The program will be based in Newark.

The program’s goal is to teach urban residents about factors that affect them and their urban communities. It will empower them to increase civic engagement and to promote change where they live.

“There is a growing need to educate students on addressing public health from an urban perspective,” said Perry N. Halkitis, dean of Rutgers School of Public Health. “We’re creating the opportunity to work with and for the people of Newark to address how social injustices and inequities drive these problems in urban populations. We have the perfect context — Newark — and willing partners in city government and area agencies that want to improve the health of the population. By marrying our academic efforts with people who are working in the real world, we can more effectively address the disparities.”

Rutgers program will focus on urban issues to curb health epidemics and evoke policy change

The program will be grounded in a bio-psycho-social perspective, and bring together epidemiology, environmental issues, policies and law. A certificate program within the concentration allows students to specialize in areas such as maternal and child health, LGBTQ health, disaster preparedness and epidemiology. “Health and wellbeing is directed by biological and behavioral phenomenon, but these factors are not separate and must be understood within the urban context,” said Halkitis.

Students will learn how to characterize the disparities in urban populations, analyze how diverse urban factors and environments influence health status and apply theories and scientific evidence to develop and assess programs and strategies with urban populations. They also will learn real-world skills, such as management, conflict resolution, grant writing and creating presentations.

The school is partnering with public health departments across the state to train employees on how urban factors influence public policy. “This is a much-needed program since most of the public health issues we address are in urban areas,” said Paschal Nwako, Health Officer/Public Health Coordinator in Camden County. “This program will help get everyone on the same page with formal training on how to approach the urban public health issues in a practical way.”

“We want to engage high school students in Newark and let them know this program is a way that they can help address health disparities in their communities,” Halkitis said. “The goal is for the people of Newark to lead the charge in improving the health of their own communities.”

For more information visit mph.rutgers.edu/uph.