An Eye on Population Health

La Monica Everett-Haynes

At the University of Arizona, researchers are working to improve access to care, the quality of health care, and the study of medical conditions among minority and underserved communities.

“Population health and health outcomes are relatively new concepts that focus on understanding the health of groups and how to improve the health of entire populations by reducing health disparities between groups,” says Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, UA senior vice president for health sciences.

The UA has a number of new programs and initiatives aimed at reducing health disparities, diversifying the workforce, and expanding educational opportunities, which, Garcia says, will reduce the overall cost of health care in Arizona while improving quality of life across the state.

These initiatives also address the Arizona Board of Regents mandate that the UA double its research enterprise by 2020.

Garcia says being attentive to population health requires addressing not only individual habits or conditions but also the structural deficiencies that create and perpetuate disparities.

In addressing disparities, it is crucial to align training programs with community needs, says Maria Teresa Velez, associate dean for the UA Graduate College and principal investigator on a number of programs working to expand the diversity of students pursuing graduate degrees.

“We need to train professionals — in education, nutritional sciences, microbiology, public health, speech and hearing, environmental sciences, and elsewhere — to help communities to improve their lot,” Velez says. “This helps to promote a cycle of wellness and also a cycle of economic power.”

Francisco Moreno, deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and professor of psychiatry at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, agrees. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion promotes interest in careers in medicine within minority and other underrepresented populations, Moreno says. 

Programs such as the Minority Access to Research Careers and Initiatives to Maximize Student Diversity, for example, prepare undergraduates to pursue biomedical careers and help support those who enter doctoral degrees. Graduate Access Fellowships help first-generation, low-income students pay for graduate study. And the new Work-Ready Master’s Incentive Program, which supports master’s students who are Arizona residents, helps students meet the workforce needs of the state, including needs related to addressing health inequities. 


Diabetes Prevention and Education Center — providing educational sessions on self-management to patients and members of the community.

Tohono O’odham Cancer Partnership Program — educating tribal members about cancer prevention, early detection, and survivor well-being. A similar partnership exists with the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Health Network Dual-Role Interpreters and Spanish Ambassadors Program — addressing the crucial need for Spanish-speaking health professionals.

¡Vida! Breast Cancer Educational Series — offering a free, monthly breast cancer health education series for patients, their families, and primary care providers via teleconferencing in both English and Spanish.

Focusing Research on the Border Area Summer Internship — providing students with opportunities to prepare for medical school while receiving hands-on research experience and an increased understanding of public health disparities in the U.S.-Mexico border region.