Training, diversifying next generation of health data experts

The program expands access to training programs for minority undergraduate students from local Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

To help address the growing need for a larger and more diverse workforce of health care data analysts, technologists and experts, UNC-Chapel Hill and United Health Foundation are expanding access to health care data and informatics educational and professional development resources through the University’s Carolina Health Informatics Program.

A three-year, $1.6 million grant from United Health Foundation to UNC-Chapel Hill will create “Project ENABLE,” the Extensible Network-Accessible Biomedical & Health Informatics Lifelong Learning Environment. The initiative will deliver high-quality biomedical and health informatics training – both online and in person – to people who currently lack access to training. It will focus on minority undergraduate students considering health informatics careers, as well as working professionals needing to advance their health informatics skills.

“We want to make these great opportunities available to talented people from all backgrounds,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said Tuesday as she announced the partnership at a news conference at Wilson Library. Gov. Roy Cooper and UnitedHealth Group CEO David S. Wichmann joined Folt to introduce the program.

“We’re completely committed to getting excellent health care access to everybody,” Folt said. “This partnership is about making it available to all and improving it for all.”

This workforce development effort will support the nation’s growing need for health informatics experts, as more health care services rely on electronic records and incorporate patient and population data into decision making. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences shows that while underrepresented minority groups comprised 28.5 percent of the national population, they represent just 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations. This new initiative will address both of these challenges.

The grant will support three specific programmatic activities within Project ENABLE:

  • Creation of in-person summer boot camps for minority undergraduate students from local HBCUs to expose students to health informatics principles and encourage them to explore advanced training and health informatics careers. The first boot camp is scheduled to begin this summer.
  • Development of new health informatics online course content, based upon the boot camps, that introduces health informatics to a cross-section of students and working professionals.
  • Creation of a new online master’s degree to help working professionals develop expertise in health informatics, with a focus on data analytics, visualizations, statistics and database systems.

Addressing this growing need offers an opportunity to improve health care for the people of North Carolina and beyond.

“Health care informatics can make a real difference in people’s lives,” Cooper said. “Using health care data can be a way to be much more cost-efficient, a way to make sure we have a health care system that works for everybody.”

Strengthening the health care informatics industry through diversity is vital for seizing that opportunity to improve.

“Investing to train and equip tomorrow’s health care workforce is about ensuring that we have culturally competent clinicians and health care technologists who can spot trends and crunch massive amounts of data to make our health care system run more smoothly and efficiently for both patients and health care providers,” said Wichmann.

This partnership is possible only at Carolina, Wichmann said, where Folt’s leadership has built a culture that encourages entrepreneurship, partnership and innovation.

“Her leadership has made UNC a trailblazer among the best in class academic institutions pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in higher education.”

The United Health Foundation, which was established by UnitedHealth Group in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care, works through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts. To date, United Health Foundation has committed nearly $315 million to programs and communities around the world.