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ONC PHIT Workforce Program Recipients Take Strides Toward Diversity

In late 2021, the ONC Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program (PHIT Workforce Program) allotted $73 million to increase diversity within the health IT industry.

Only a few months into the ONC Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program (PHIT Workforce Program) and recipients have already taken steps to increase the diversity and representation of minority health IT professionals.

The PHIT Workforce Program was launched as a response to the Biden-Harris Administration Executive Order on Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats.

COVID-19 uncovered gaps in public health reporting and data analysis, particularly around race and ethnicity data, ONC stated. These can be attributed to underfunding of the staff needed to support public health data reporting at the state and local levels, as well as poor health IT infrastructure.

As a part of the PHIT Workforce Program, ONC allotted $73 million in cooperative agreements funded by the American Rescue Plan to support the next generation of health IT talent to equip the nation for future public health challenges.

“ONC recognizes that developing a workforce with competencies in public health informatics and technology is critical. Knowledge about data such as laboratory results, bed availability, and electronic health information at the right place and at the right time are essential during a pandemic,” ONC officials Sherilyn Pruitt and Maggie Wanis wrote in a HealthITBuzz blog post.

“A diverse and information technology-savvy public health workforce can contribute to more equitable public health activities, with the potential to yield better health outcomes.”

The ten awardees, comprising Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and other institutions of higher education, will collectively train more than 4,000 individuals over four years through an interdisciplinary approach to public health IT.

Even though the awardees are only six months into the PHIT Workforce Program, they have already started building surveys and assessment tools to gauge what is needed for various public health informatics roles.

In addition, the recipients have brought a diverse set of public and private employers to the table to develop innovative strategies to engage students and generate internship opportunities.

Specifically, the University of Texas, one of the then ten awardees, has worked on boot camp-style training for their undergraduate students.

Another awardee, the University of Minnesota, is leveraging its existing relationships with other universities to implement its curriculum across both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Jackson State University will be implementing programs that develop the pipeline of health IT talent from high school to college.

California State University at Long Beach will be working on creating a multi-pronged approach to prepare diverse students for the PHIT workforce. This approach will specifically focus on gaps identified by the California Department of Public Health.

“We are grateful for the dedication of the awardees, and their consortium partners, who are working to bring relevant curricula to their students,” Pruitt and Wanis said.

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