By: Maggie Rotermund
Saint Louis University has been named a Center of Excellence for Maternal and Child Health Education, Science and Practice. The designation comes from a new, five-year $1.735 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
SLU is now one of 13 Centers of Excellence in the United States and the only one in Region 7, which includes Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Other HRSA Centers of Excellence for Maternal and Child Health Education, Science and Practice include Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and U.C. Berkeley, to name a few.
Pamela Xaverius, Ph.D., MBA, associate professor of epidemiology in SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, is the principal investigator on the grant and leads the maternal and child health concentration in the MPH program.
One of the primary goals of the Center is to increase the number and diversity of Maternal Child Health (MCH) Masters in Public Health (MPH) graduates practicing in Region 7. This will be accomplished through enhanced recruitment and retention of diverse students, providing financial resources to support MCH MPH graduate students and improving the quality of the training during and after graduation.
“There is a need for more people in public health broadly, but specifically those that specialize in maternal and child health,” Xaverius said. “We’ve seen a decrease in public health funding in recent years and an increase in need.”
Health outcomes for mothers and babies haven’t improved and the health disparities in Black, non-Hispanic births versus those to white mothers are profound, Xaverius said. Having more public health officials trained in MCH will enhance the workforce, and in turn, have the skills to address this growing and significant need around equity in health for moms and babies.
Some of the grant funding will provide scholarships for MCH students. Xaverius said she hopes the funds will expand access to SLU for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as first-generation college students and those from impoverished backgrounds. Xaverius’ goal is to enroll 100 diverse trainees in the graduate MCH program over five years, increasing student diversity by 20% and retaining 98% of students until graduation. Small stipends will also be available to give students practice-based experience with MCH organizations.
Xaverius said the HRSA grant would also support SLU in creating a certification in MCH, which would involve five core MCH courses in the MPH program. The core classes will expose students to historical, legislative, Title V and related programs; cultural competence; MCH leadership; life course theory; epidemiology; health equity /social justice; and emerging MCH public health issues. Students will also do research and experiential learning, as well as be exposed to leadership opportunities.
Xaverius said SLU’s strong and accredited curriculum plan is a standout feature of the program.
“We are the only Jesuit school of public health that offers an MPH with a concentration in MCH,” she said. “We have a strong core of faculty that specialize in maternal child health. And as a Jesuit school, social justice is an overarching priority for our students, faculty and community partners.”
Xaverius said she plans to work closely with Reinert Center for Transformative Learning as she looks to enhance the MCH core curriculum and expand offerings from in-class to online.
The Center will provide continuing education and leadership skills to existing MCH professionals throughout Region 7.
“There are lots of people working within public health that don’t have maternal child health training,” Xaverius said. “We want to expand the reach of this training and help educate the current workforce.”
Pulling together regional resources around MCH is another goal of the Center. Xaverius said she is expanding an advisory board to include regional and local public health agencies in addition to faculty. That group will help identify needs so that SLU can better prepare graduates for jobs.
This will be accomplished through enhanced recruitment and retention of diverse students, providing financial resources to support MCH MPH graduate students and improving the quality of the training during and after graduation.
Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA is the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable. It achieves its goal in part by strengthening the skills and diversity of the health work force and expanding the ability of health providers to see patients in underserved areas.
College for Public Health and Social Justice
The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.
Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.