As a 2009 MCH Trainee, I was fortunate to participate in an initiative to increase the cultural and linguistic competency of select maternal and child health university programs. The experience challenged me to reconsider diversity, not as a discrete, quantifiable statistic but as a dynamic indicator of public health. I learned to evaluate diversity as a systematic process— or intentional experience– of inclusiveness, mutual respect, empathy, and social support among individuals, institutions, and communities. In relation to educational attainment, this broader perspective of diversity stressed the essential role that cross-cultural relationships play in recruitment, retention, and training of future public health professionals.
Through my traineeship I became aware of numerous, creative, and extensive diversity strategies on college campuses nationwide. Collaborations between universities and communities were attracting minorities into the field as early as high school and helping these students to mitigate the numerous barriers to successful completion of degree programs. The ideals embedded in the initiatives were impressive and personally encouraging for me as an African-American. Yet, at the completion of my traineeship, a nagging question remained as to whether the efforts would be sufficient to create a future MCH workforce representative of the multicultural populations that we serve.
Nearly three months later, I received my answer. This semester I have the privilege of serving as the teaching assistant in our graduate MCH life-course survey class. During a class discussion on cultural competence, the professor asked the students to identify a personal or professional experience that required cultural competency to address a specific issue. Looking across a room full of the next generation of public health professionals, I was struck by two observations. First, African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans accounted for approximately 12 percent of the students while the total number of non-majority students was at least 32 percent (2 to 3 percent higher than the graduate school’s percentages[i]). Second, minorities and non-minorities alike were cognizant of the nuanced differences between cultural diversity, cultural awareness/ appreciation, and cultural competence. The class collectively considered the latter to be an achievable goal for all public health professionals, regardless of practitioner’s racial or ethnic identity, …if given proper training.
I left class knowing that increasing the number of minority public health professionals is only one half of the solution to meeting the needs of the increasingly diverse MCH population. The other half is to educate non-minorities on how to be culturally and linguistically competent as well. It cannot be assumed that non-minorities inherently have these skills. As we celebrate the past 75 years of Title V and look forward, I hope MCH leadership will critically consider this complementary aim in the recruitment, retention, and training of future public health professionals. Effectively tackling pressing MCH issues such as health disparities requires reciprocal, cross-cultural relationships between minorities AND non-minorities.
Sherika Hill, MHA
PhD student, Maternal and Child Health Department
UNC-CH Gillings School of Global Public Health
[i]UNC-CH Graduate School Admittance Data http://gradschool.unc.edu/documents/Highlights.pdf