Aiming to get more people into health informatics and technology, University of Texas Health Houston has formed a consortium that includes University of Texas Permian Basin.
Susan Fenton, associate professor and associate dean for Academic and Curricular Affairs at UTHealth Houston D. Bradley McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics, said the name of the project from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is Workforce Development for Public Health Informatics and Technology.
In Texas, it’s called Gaining Equity in Training for Public Health Informatics and Technology Workforce Development Program, or GETPHIT.
“… We have other universities that have joined us from across the state … Dr. (Samuel) Terrazas at the University of Texas Permian Basin is one of our consortium members that we’re working with. There are nine consortium members … In October, that will go to 10 because we’re going to be adding another university so our universities right now are Houston Tillotson University in Austin, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, UT Permian Basin, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Prairie View A&M, UT Arlington, UT El Paso and Texas A&M International,” Fenton said.
The target is to train 1,900 participants. Of those, 1,400 undergraduate students are being targeted from schools like UTPB.
Fenton said 500 participants are being sought as visiting professionals who will get additional training in public health informatics.
Terrazas said the number of students from UTPB will be 50 and there are also students enrolled in the two boot camps.
“We’ve developed curriculum across 16 different topic areas. What we’re doing is allowing each university to integrate that public health informatics and technology curriculum into programs at their universities as is best for them. That’s because we don’t have a standardized undergraduate curriculum across the state of Texas and even then it would be impossible for us to do that,” Fenton said.
The first boot camp was held at UTPB in 2022.
The grant for the program runs until September 2025.
“The boot camps are two-week, full day in-person boot camps,” Fenton said.
She added that they will have another boot camp at UTPB in summer 2024.
The program is federally funded. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is located in the Department of Health and Human Services.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity because at UTPB we don’t have a full on public health department, but we do have a relatively new College of Health Sciences and Human Performance, so having this curriculum has really had an impact on various departments and various programs,” Terrazas said. “We’ve been able to use various elements of the curriculum in our athletic training program, our exercise science program (and) our nursing program. We have a College of Business and they have some health management programs that they’ve been using that curriculum (for). We’ve recently added to our team a professor from the department of psychology. She’s a health psychologist. She started integrating the curriculum and that content in her courses,” Terrazas said.
Because the area is rural, Terrazas said, having students who are prepared with specialized training and information around informatics and analytics makes them much more marketable when they enter the healthcare field.
“It’s really had a very positive impact and has helped us develop our own program in our health sciences and human performance as well,” he added.
Fenton said students in informatics don’t have any problem finding jobs.
“One of the parts of our consortium is that students who go through either the boot camp or the training through the curriculum delivery at their institutions then become available to participate in internships,” Fenton said.
“These are typically about three months long. The students receive a stipend for it, but it gives them real- world training. We’ve had several students who have been hired with jobs through those internships, so it’s really helping to grow that workforce,” she added.
Terrazas said it exposes students who may not have known about these workforce options.
“… In our boot camp, we had students from nursing and from athletic training and computer science. We hope to have a wider range of disciplines in our next boot camp, but many of these students hadn’t heard about it and it really had an impact in terms of how they thought about their careers in healthcare,” he said. “It also was a wonderful opportunity for them to work interdisciplinary and to see how these disciplines benefited one another and how they work together,” he added.
Fenton said the program is open to anyone who expresses an interest.
“We do ask them to give us a brief 250-word essay to say why are they interested because we want to know that they’re really interested. …,” she said.
Fenton said there will be a GETPHIT summit Sept. 14 bringing together consortium members.
“… Students have had opportunities to submit posters from the work they’ve done and we’re also inviting our host sites and employers to be there. We’re very excited about that … especially for the students, having them be able to interact between the different institutions is a big benefit,” she added.