School of Public Health

HSC and National Association for Healthcare Quality partner to prepare MHA graduates to improve quality outcomes

Nahq HqMaster of Health Administration students will prepare to achieve Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality® certification during capstone course.

The HSC School of Public Health has collaborated with the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) to provide its Master of Health Administration (MHA) students with the opportunity to pursue the only accredited certification in healthcare quality, the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality® (CPHQ). Students will be provided with test preparation content and tools during the program capstone course, beginning in the Spring 2021 semester. Through this agreement, HSC has become the first MHA program in the nation to hardwire NAHQ’s content into its curriculum.

“Given our MHA program mission to produce graduates who will influence change and improve quality outcomes across the care continuum, HSC is thrilled to collaborate with NAHQ to now offer content rooted in a twice-validated, industry-standard Healthcare Quality Competency Framework,” said Dr. Stephan Davis, Assistant Professor and Director of the MHA program. “As the only Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) program exclusively based in North Texas, we utilize a competency-based approach to educating our students and the NAHQ framework supports our model.”

Added Dr. Arthur Mora, SPH Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Health Behavior and Health Systems, “With a reputation for pushing the boundaries of discovery and innovation, HSC takes pride in becoming the first MHA program to align with the gold standard credential in healthcare quality, NAHQ’s CPHQ certification.”

As holders of the CPHQ credential themselves, Drs. Mora and Davis are among the more than 12,000 healthcare and quality professionals who have achieved the designation. They were both instrumental in facilitating this new partnership, according to Stephanie Mercado, CAE CPHQ, NAHQ’s CEO and Executive Director.

“I wholeheartedly commend Drs. Mora and Davis for creating a pathway for their students to graduate with not only a premier, CAHME-accredited graduate degree but with an industry-recognized credential,” Mercado said. “We see a growing imperative to focus on workforce readiness to delivery on quality, safety and value. NAHQ applauds HSC’s leadership and encourages other health administration academic programs to consider this alignment so we can continue the journey toward consistency in this critical area of healthcare management.”

Dr. Anthony Stanowski, president and CEO of CAHME, added, “HSC’s design of its curriculum provides high value to students who seek to make a difference in healthcare. By linking NAHQ’s certification credential to successful graduates of the CAHME-accredited HSC MHA program, students can present to potential employers that they graduated from an accredited program with the skills and CPHQ credential to improve healthcare quality and safety.”

“I’m excited for HSC’s current and future MHA students,” said Dr. Dan Gentry, president and CEO of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). “When AUPHA advocated for, and CAHME acted on, moving from curriculum content areas to competencies at the turn of the century, these kinds of opportunities were exactly what we had in mind. Personally, I’ve always advised my own graduate students that getting specialized training, in areas such as quality improvement and Lean Six Sigma, project management and financial management, will set them apart and serve them and their future employers well.”


NAHQ is the leader in healthcare quality workforce competencies and creator of the twice-validated, industry-standard Healthcare Quality Competency Framework. NAHQ provides a strategic advantage to healthcare professionals and the organizations they serve by developing and evolving workforce competencies in healthcare quality that result in better patient and financial outcomes to support the goals of healthcare value.

Nahq Hq
School of Public Health

Each patient’s story illuminates Tarrant County COVID data, strengthens contact tracing

By Sally Crocker

Julia AikenHSC 2020 graduate Julia Aiken was finishing the last semester of her MPH in Public Health Practice when COVID-19 hit this spring. By May, she had wrapped up her degree and was helping out with Tarrant County Public Health’s (TCPH) contact tracing efforts, to track and help stop community spread of the virus.

Aiken volunteered extra hours above her temporary work schedule, eventually joining TCPH full time this summer as an Epidemiology Specialist managing a data intake team.

Every aspect of Aiken’s work begins with people.

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the public health department is notified. Intake teams like Aiken’s receive case reports for database entry, beginning a process where even the smallest details of a patient’s history are studied for important clues.

As with any virus or infectious disease, it’s a lot like solving a puzzle, looking for pieces of information that fit together, to uncover a trail or series of circumstances leading from person to person.

“Sometimes the data we receive is basic – name, age, contact information, lab results – but with expanded records, we get a better glimpse of a patient’s history, where the person has been, how the virus may have been contracted, and others who could have been infected as well,” Aiken said.

“If the patient resides in a nursing home or other close-contact community setting, if someone else in the family has recently been ill, if the person has traveled, all those things give us more detail and show where we need to follow up to help keep others safe.”

Aiken and her team are focused on the people behind the numbers of COVID cases.

While data does represent numbers, facts, figures and correlations, on a deeper level, it also tells stories. Data provides important insight leading to discoveries and ways of solving problems. It has the potential to save lives.

“How we manage the database really matters, as our work begins a process that other case teams will move forward through the public health department,” she said. “Taking the time to read each case carefully, looking for even the smallest details that might be important, gives the follow-up teams a better perspective on where to go next.”

The work that begins with Aiken’s team leads to other investigators and contact tracing efforts, where TCPH workers call patients; reach out to other, potentially impacted individuals and groups; monitor, report and resolve each case. With the dramatic 2020 numbers of positive COVID cases and deaths, that has resulted in a tremendous effort for Tarrant County and other communities around the U.S.

“It has been an all-hands-on-deck response for TCPH and other public health departments,” Aiken said.

Cooperation among health departments has been important, especially in tracking cases to their appropriate home counties.

“In large, metropolitan areas like Dallas/Fort Worth, a person may reside in one city but get tested in another. The data teams work closely with other public health departments, as well as local clinics, hospitals and testing facilities, to route the patient records appropriately,” she said.

TCPH training reminds COVID worker teams to connect with patients first as people. The job, Aiken said, is one that’s approached with investigative curiosity, care and respect.

“Spending time with the records gives you a real feel for what patients are going through. You learn about their families, their likes and dislikes, their personal situations, who they really are.”

“Public health prevention has to have a foundation of good data, and good data comes from seeing people behind the numbers,” she said. “We do it because we care about the public, and we take the extra time to evaluate all the details that may be helpful to a case and the larger efforts.”

“I feel like that’s my duty right now.”

Julia Aiken
School of Public Health

Dr. Erica Spears named one of 15 national scholars to new, integrative well-being and inequality research training program

By Sally Crocker

Miwi Scholars And Directors


Health inequality and systemic racism have long threatened the lives of African Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic and increased awareness of police violence in 2020 have intensified nationwide action toward solutions and change for traditionally underserved populations.

For health disparities researchers like HSC Assistant Professor Erica Spears, PhD, who has dedicated her career to working on critical public health concerns facing African American communities, there is immeasurable value in collaborating with others, especially across professional disciplines related to social determinants of health.

This year, Dr. Spears was one of 15 scholars chosen for the highly competitive, inaugural cohort of the Michigan Integrative Well-Being and Inequality (MIWI) Training Program, hosted by the University of Michigan Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health. The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

The program provides early-career scientists with an opportunity to expand their research skills and extend their network of mentors and collaborators. Cohort members also receive support and assistance with research projects focused on the relationship between mental and physical health.

The cohort recently opened with an intensive, online summer institute and will continue in a structured format through next spring. An important goal of the program is for participants to develop professional partnerships that continue after the first year, as they move on to lend their own expertise to the next, incoming group of promising researchers.

“To connect with other health disparities investigators right now, at such a crucial time – as existing systems continue to threaten the holistic health of African American communities and other historically marginalized groups – is an incredible opportunity,” Dr. Spears said. “It’s a challenging time to work in public health, but I’ve never felt that my work was more necessary than it is right now.”

Dr. Spears focuses on the complex relationship between race-based stressors, holistic health and health behaviors.

“Scholars often find themselves working in isolation,” she said. “As an African American woman who identifies with and belongs to many of the communities I study, this opportunity to collaborate with other health disparities researchers is important to me. It represents an opportunity to extend the reach of my voice and expertise to a larger academic landscape and extend my efforts to improve health outcomes for racial minorities.”

COVID-19 has been more deadly for people of color, revealing stark racial disparities across the U.S. and adding increased burden to communities already long overstressed before the pandemic. African Americans are nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to others in the U.S. population. Increasing racial tensions of the last several months and growing reports of African American deaths from police violence across the country have pushed rates of depression and anxiety to unprecedented levels within Black communities.

“It’s a tremendously stressful time. There is a lot of pain, fear, disappointment and other raw emotion right now. It’s very difficult for me too,” Dr. Spears said. “For African Americans, it’s like we are going through two pandemics at once.”

The impact of a person’s mental health on their physical health shouldn’t be underestimated, she said, and the longer-term effects of what people are living through currently will be important down the road as well.

“The complexities contributing to some of the poor health outcomes observed in African American communities are getting more complicated every day,” Dr. Spears said. “How does witnessing a murder on social media or in the news, or experiencing other acts of violence against people you identify with, affect you in the long term?”

“These things are impacting health right now, even if we aren’t sure how. While the pathways may vary, we’ll never truly resolve health disparities without addressing the systemic issues tied to race and racism in this country.”

Health disparities research emerged about 40 years ago, yet African American and certain other marginalized populations have seen little change in health outcomes or quality of life.

“What’s not working? If we are doing things the right way, we should see improvement. But disparities have widened, conditions have worsened,” Dr. Spears said. “The solutions aren’t simple.”

“Health and societal inequalities, and the crisis intersection of COVID-19 and systemic racism, require work at every level of society and across disciplines, which connects to the premise of the MIWI program – health doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

MIWI cohort participants come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, including researchers studying marginalized populations; physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and allied health professionals; anthropologists, sociologists, social workers, psychologists, economists; and others who address the mental and physical impacts of health disparities.

“The work we do now to ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable communities are met will say a lot about the kind of country we want to be,” Dr. Spears said. “The relevance and consequences of this work take on a deeper meaning when it feels like the whole country is on fire and people are reaching out for healing and solutions.”

The MIWI cohort program and similar efforts around the country bring hope for improved health and societal outcomes among marginalized populations that most need attention, even more so now during the unprecedented challenges of current times.

Miwi Scholars And Directors