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University develops health informatics track for Native American public health students

The School of Public Health is participating in a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health to train students in health informatics.
Image by Morgan La Casse

The University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and School of Nursing are developing a new public health informatics program for Native American students in partnership with local tribal nations.

As part of the program beginning in fall 2022, Public Health Administration and Policy students will also connect with Native American public health experts in the field, according to public health professor Sripriya Rajamani. The program is funded by a $1.5 million grant to the Training in Informatics for Underrepresented Minorities in Public Health (TRIUMPH) in September 2021.

“Through the TRIUMPH consortium, relationships between institutions [such as the University] and tribal nations are being built up again,” said Stacy Hammer, a graduate student in the School of Public Health who is interested in enrolling in the program this fall.

Health informatics is the data collected about the health of a population, which has been used during the pandemic to analyze case loads and immunization rates in geographic and cultural communities.

With the TRIUMPH grant, University faculty will train Native American students, who are often underrepresented in these professions, to work in health informatics so they can make effective decisions that fit the needs of the population they are serving, health policy professor Rebecca Wurtz said. This work could be used to support the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which has been working through COVID-19 data throughout the pandemic, according to TRIUMPH manager Yasmin Odowa.

“We are finding ways to talk about data as a tool to achieve equity,” Wurtz said.

Health data from Black people, Indigenous people and people of color has historically been inaccurate and collected without consulting tribal nations, according to Hammer. This data, which measures things like the occurrence of mental health conditions and chronic diseases, is used to allocate medical supplies and resources.

“Historically, federal agencies have used their own units of measurement and western processes of data collection to gather data on Indigenous population,” Hammer said.

Hammer said she and many of her friends feel the University is making more progress in its relationships with tribal nations than other schools and institutions.

“Minnesota is ahead in building relationships with tribal nations and bridging gaps that have been there for years,” Hammer said.

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