MCH Center of Excellence Offers New Training, Research, and Practice Opportunities

Original article by Jillian McKoy on June 26th 2020 – BUSPH “MCH Center of Excellence Offers New Training, Research, and Practice Opportunities”

The School of Public Health’s Center of Excellence in MCH Education, Science, and Practice (MCH CoE), one of only 13 such centers nationwide, has received its sixth round of funding through 2025 from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources & Services Research Administration. The MCH CoE also received an MCH Epidemiology Doctoral Training Award, which will support the dissertation work of SPH doctoral students studying maternal and child health and epidemiology.

Founded in 1995, the MCH CoE provides educational, practice, research, and leadership programs that prepare students to become leaders in the MCH field, with an emphasis on advancing and promoting health equity as well as racial, social, and economic justice for women, children, and families. The renewed funding will enable the center to continue a myriad of programs and expand its training initiatives to students, faculty, and staff across SPH and Boston University, and grow its partnerships with local and state agencies and community-based organizations.

“We’ve shifted from being a center that devotes all of its resources to students seeking MCH concentrations or certificates, to one that includes students across the school who have MCH interests and goals,” says Lois McCloskey, who has directed the center since 2008, serves as codirector of the MCH certificate, and is an associate professor of community health sciences. “It’s very gratifying to have the extra resources to build on our core academic program, and enhance the field experiences and leadership training of students who share MCH goals,” she says.

School-wide MCH Research and Practice Fellowships are key offerings of the CoE. McCloskey and Trish Elliott, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, codirect the research and practice fellowships, respectively. Research fellows work on SPH faculty members’ research teams for 10-12 months, while Practice fellows are matched with a preceptor at a community or public agency for the same time period. Both groups work on professional products and present their work at the annual MCH Forum and, in some cases, at national or regional public health conferences. This academic year, fellows will participate in research and practice opportunities related to reproductive and maternal health, environmental justice, Medicaid policy reform, and COVID-19.

“The practice fellowships are set up in an apprentice-style model where students are embedded within the organization and work on projects through multiple stages to contribute meaningfully over time,” says Elliott, who is also the director of the DrPH program. “They are also building their connections with their site supervisors who serve in a mentorship capacity, which has been invaluable—oftentimes, the fellows are hired by those organizations later on because they’ve had such good experiences with them. It’s a really wonderful program.”

Shelby Ingerick, a second-year MPH student completing the CAPDIE certificate (Community Assessment, Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation) is currently completing a practice fellowship with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), developing quality improvement guidelines within the Division of Pregnancy, Infancy, and Early Childhood to help home visiting programs implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services.

“The fellowship has provided me with many practical skills, complemented the courses I am taking, and has helped give me a better focus towards how I want to pursue my postgraduate career,” says Ingerick. “I’m taking every opportunity I have to learn more about DPH, attend virtual trainings, and assist with the current COVID-19 response.”

Elliott will also lead a new professional development co-learning initiative that fosters academic-community partnerships with Population Health Exchange and three state partners (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Tennessee) to disseminate online MCH modules for both students and practitioners.

A distinctive flagship program of the MCH CoE is its Diversity Scholars Leadership Program (DSLP). Founded 10 years ago by then-faculty member Joanna Rorie, the DSLP supports a cohort of four MCH students from under-represented minority communities each year, many of them first-generation students, and all of them committed to growing as leaders in the movement for racial justice in health. Flourishing in a primarily white academic institution presents unique challenges to Black and Brown students, says McCloskey, and the DSLP offers financial, mentoring, and community-building resources to support their experience and professional development at SPH. A cadre of about 15 alums of color who are health leaders in Boston serve as community mentors. Jasmine Abrams, assistant professor of community health sciences, directs the program with McCloskey and serves as faculty mentor. In 2022, the DSLP will extend to a cohort of LGBTQIA students.

“Programs like the DSLP offer an opportunity to acknowledge and intervene on systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and individual-level factors that impact matriculation and postgraduate success among underrepresented minority students,” says Abrams. “This type of program provides critical tangible and intangible support for students who will undoubtedly contribute to a better public health workforce.”

She says she enjoys building community among the students, who appreciate being able to come together in a safe space to discuss joys and common challenges, and collectively brainstorm solutions for overcoming challenges.

“I would be remiss if I neglected to mention how much good it does for me to build and be part of this community alongside them,” says Abrams. “As a professor, students are my academic life blood—seeing them work through difficulties, learn, and thrive, gives me life, and it motivates me to do and be better.”  

Further expanding its reach, the CoE will launch a new Interprofessional Education Initiative, partnering with the Schools of Law, Social Work, Medicine, Dental Medicine, and Wheelock to create field opportunities that engage student on inter-professional research and practice teams. The center will also launch a university-wide Life Course Research Network to facilitate exchanges and collaborations on MCH-related research that shares a common aim of applying the life course perspective to to advance racial and social justice across generations and individual life spans.

The MCH Epidemiology Doctoral Training Award will provide financial support to one DrPH or epidemiology PhD student each year through a predoctoral fellowship for which they will conduct a local or state analysis on a public health topic for their dissertation. Elliott and Martha Werler, chair and professor of epidemiology, serve as co-principal investigators of this award to support fellows’ projects.

“We are looking forward to collaborating and supporting students in both programs to help them do the dissertations that they want to do, so that we have a really well-trained maternal and child health workforce,” says Elliott.

Jillian McKoy