ETSU CPH receives $3.25 million grant to establish statewide training center

Contact: Brad Lifford
September 22, 2010

JOHNSON CITY – East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health has received a $3.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA) to serve as a comprehensive training center where public health professionals across the state can advance their knowledge and skills.

ETSU is one of only 27 institutions chosen by HRSA to become a new Public Health Training Center. Most of the universities chosen for the program are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). ETSU is the only CEPH-accredited school of public health in Tennessee.

The Association of Schools of Public Health has reported that by 2020, the United States will face a shortage of 250,000 public health workers.  The Public Health Training Centers are part of a federal effort to improve health through a public health workforce that is better-equipped to address this shortage and meet the challenges of public health in the 21st century.

At ETSU, the HRSA grant will support the launch of a new program called Tennessee LIFEPATH, or Tennessee Long-Distance Internet Facilitated Educational Program for Applied Training in Health. The university will serve as the program’s statewide hub while three schools partnering with ETSU on the grant,    Meharry College of Medicine, the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee, will provide regional training events. Other partners include the Tennessee Department of Health and the National Association of City and County Health Officials.

With a significant distance learning component, as well as stipends to offset some student costs, LIFEPATH will offer convenient learning opportunities for working public health professionals. Though many courses can be completed online, students can also take courses on campus, said Dr. Robert Pack, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Public Health and principal investigator for the grant. The grant will fund new positions at ETSU to develop and sustain the training center.

“Public health workers from anywhere in the state, and, in fact, those from outside Tennessee, will be able to engage in academic coursework at the certificate, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels,” Pack said. “LIFEPATH will offer a broad array of academic and non-academic programs to help ensure Tennessee’s public health workforce has the knowledge, skills and training to meet the state’s present and forthcoming health challenges.”

Those health challenges for Tennessee are well-documented, as the state routinely ranks low in overall health rankings. Tennessee improved three spots in the most recent rankings to rise from 47th to 44th among U.S. states.

“Our state is making steady progress to improve the overall health of Tennesseans, and to continue that forward movement, it’s vital that public health workers – both current and future professionals – receive the academic preparation that they need to meet the challenges they face,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the college. “People who choose to work in public health are among the most dedicated health professionals, so we’re confident LIFEPATH will draw the interest of many workers who are eager to improve their skills and broaden their knowledge.”

As part of the LIFEPATH program, Dr. Brian Martin, an assistant professor in the ETSU Department of Health Services Administration, will oversee a statewide needs assessment study to determine which areas of public health training should receive particular emphasis.

This marks the second time in two months that the College of Public Health has received a federal grant worth more than $2.5 million. Earlier this summer, the National Institutes of Health awarded Dr. Joel Hillhouse a $2.7 million research grant for a study on teenagers who utilize indoor tanning. Hillhouse’s research grant came from a highly competitive pool of applicants.

Dr. Wilsie Bishop, ETSU’s vice president for health affairs and university chief operating officer, lauded the news that the university joined some notable company. Other new Public Health Training Centers include such schools as the University of North Carolina, as well as Emory, Tulane and Boston universities. Bishop formerly served as dean of the college.

 “This is very exciting news for the college, ETSU and our region,” Bishop said. “Because CEPH accreditation is the gold standard for schools of public health, we envisioned accreditation as being a precursor for opportunities like this. I’d like to commend Dean Wykoff, Dr. Pack and all of the faculty and staff for pushing the College of Public Health to new heights.”

 “The establishment of a Public Health Training Center at ETSU is an investment by HRSA in our state’s future,” Pack said. “By investing in our public health workforce, we will improve the lives of Tennesseans today and tomorrow.”