UC Berkeley’s new Rural Health Innovation program, or RHI, will begin in 2024, offering fully funded scholarships for an online Masters in Public Health, or MPH, according to Cathy Garza, executive director of Online On-Campus MPH, or OOMPH.
Garza said the program will be offered to experienced health care professionals who live and work in rural communities.
“The program will prepare the next generation of public health leaders and changemakers to innovate health policies, transform health systems, and advance health equity in rural America,” said Michael C. Lu, dean for the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, in an email.
The application opens in August 2023, according to Kim MacPherson, MPH program director. According to Garza, RHI will offer a total of 100 fully funded scholarships over the course of four years, or 25 per year.
The funding for the RHI program was a gift from alumnus Lynn Barr, MacPherson said. According to MacPherson, Barr’s donation of $10 million will help create a force of innovative rural healthcare professionals with degrees from campus’ School of Public Health. Lu said the funding from Lynn will go to providing full-ride scholarships and developing a tailored curriculum specific for rural health.
The goal of the program is to support rural health care professionals, according to McPhearson. McPhearson added that many rural health care workers already know the issues facing their communities and understand the ingrained challenges they face, yet often lack the influence and education necessary to affect health care policies that impact their communities. This program is based on Lynn’s experience and expertise in solving rural health care issues and her hope to create the next generation of rural health care advocates, McPhearson said.
“While other rural health leadership programs exist,” Garaza said, “Berkeley’s OOMPH RHI program is unique for its curriculum and pedagogy, its focus on policy and advocacy and its commitment to diversity and health equity.”
The RHI program will be offered online, said Garza, as scholars must currently be working in rural communities. Garza added that students who are accepted into the RHI program will be able to study alongside other online on-campus master’s degree students from a wide range of specializations. The tailored curriculum, Garza said, will focus on issues that are specific to rural public health such as access, payment, quality of care and sustainability.
Out of the 100 scholars, 40 will be selected as RHI fellows and receive additional training in policy and advocacy, according to Garaza. The RHI Fellows will receive extra support in Washington, D.C. at the Rural Health Policy Institute, Garza added, where they will attend a one-week conference and meet with political leaders. Once in the RHI program, students can apply to be an RHI Fellow, Garza explained. RHI Fellows will also complete a part-time internship on a rural issue of their choice, according to McPhearson.
“Rural communities face significant health challenges and inequities, which won’t be solved by doing more of the same,” said Lu. “Our goal is to improve population health and advance health equity in rural America by preparing 100 rural health leaders and changemakers.”