New American Indian Health Policy Course launched at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

15th annual Winter Institute provides training for dozens of Native students from seven American Indian tribes

For its 15th annual Winter Institute, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health recently welcomed 39 students from seven American Indian tribes to participate in two courses including a foundational course that focuses on public health disciplines through an indigenous lens, and to experience a new course on American Indian Health Policy. During this week of intensive learning, three students completed their Public Health Training Certificate for American Indian Health Professionals, an 18-credit, graduate-level certificate that helps students address health issues in tribal communities through multidisciplinary public health approaches and culturally relevant strategies.

One new student on campus was Jazmin Villavicencio, the Center’s Field Coordinator for NativeVision, and a proud member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and of Mexican ancestry.

“It has been my dream to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Health, not to mention at the best public health school in the nation—a Chemehuevi and Mexican American Woman who was the first person in her family to ever go and graduate from college with a Bachelor’s Degree,” said Villavicencio.

Untraditional students with a passion for learning

Hundreds of Native students from dozens of tribes have attended courses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the past decade. Nearly 60 students have enrolled in the American Indian Certificate program, which provides a customized pathway to postgraduate accomplishments for a diverse student body. The certificate can be taken for credit or non-credit, making it accessible to those with or without a former collegiate degree. What students have in common is work experience in Native communities and a passion for promoting renewed well-being among their peoples. 

In evaluations from the recent Winter Institute, many students shared that they were excited by the subject matter but were fatigued but an intense week of learning and sharing! One said:

“At this point in my life, I don’t have much educational background. A single parent, [with] some college, it was for me an overwhelming experience. But I am very thankful to be a part of this institute. I have been learning and experience[ing] new ideas. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge with us!”

Under “suggestions” in the students’ evaluations, one said, “a coffee pot in the classroom would be great!” Another voted to create make t-shirts that say, “I survived Winter Institute at JHU!

Solutions for Native communities

Many students reflected on the opportunities for applying public health skills to their day-to-day work on tribal reservations. The foundational coursework from the Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the Health of American Indians class includes health and illness perceptions of American Indian and Alaska Native cultures, as well as core public health disciplines of epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral, environmental health, health policy and management, and how to view these from the perspective of Native populations.

Led by Navajo attorney Heather Tanana (pictured at left) and the Center’s Training Director, Kristen Speakman, the new American Indian Health Policy course helps students apply rational decision-making models to analyze policy alternatives to address health concerns in Native communities. The course provides special consideration of the historical relationship between tribes and the U.S. federal government that underlie the delivery of health services to American Indian and Alaska Natives.

“I plan to use the training to better understand data management,” said Feather Sprengeler, who works with the Center for American Indian Health on the Arrowhead Business Group Apache Youth Entrepreneurship Program, was just awarded her Public Health Training Certificate, and aspires to complete a master of public health. “I hope to partake in health policy implementation in tribal communities—and encourage others to get involved in making health decisions for our future generations,” she said.

On the occasion of its 25th Anniversary, the Center for American Indian Health’s 500 Scholars Initiative is working to raise $3 million over the next three years to promote education and training opportunities for 500 American Indian and Alaska Natives, through programs spanning high school to post-doctoral education. Initiatives will include programs to help youth finish high school, 25 graduate and doctoral degrees at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and allied Hopkins Schools of Nursing and Medicine, and work-training opportunities at Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian health for post-baccalaureates and post-doctoral scholars.

To learn more and apply for scholarships for public health training at Johns Hopkins, visit http://caih.jhu.edu/training/