Public health students and young professionals from underrepresented backgrounds are getting a career boost and helping to diversify the public health workforce at the same time, thanks to an APHA-led program.

The APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Leadership Program, launched in 2021, has a goal of supporting diverse public health leaders committed to improving the health of vulnerable communities and achieving health equity for all. The program is geared toward first-generation college graduates, people of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“When people with diverse experience are able to lend those experiences and voices to public health, they are able to shape innovative public health approaches,” Stephanie Ledesma, Kaiser Permanente vice president of community health, said. “To achieve health equity, our next generation of public health leaders must reflect and serve all of our communities — especially those that have been prevented from leading the conversation for far too long.”

The program has two components: The APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Scholarship, which provides funding to public health students at selected universities, and the APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Fellowship, which places graduates of the universities in public health jobs. About $6.8 million is being distributed over three years to support the first two classes of students and young professionals, including 120 scholars and 36 fellows. Funding is provided by a grant from Kaiser Permanente National Community Benefit Fund at the East Bay Community Foundation.

Applications are now being sought for both of the program’s initiatives: Submissions for the scholarship program are due Dec. 16, and fellowship applications are due Jan. 13.

The scholarship: Providing support for future public health leaders

The APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Scholarship began this year with a class of 18 master's candidates and seven doctoral candidates. It provides financial support for graduate students recently admitted to an MPH, DrPH or PhD in public health program at one of eight partner universities. Newly admitted MPH students receive a $15,000 tuition award each year. Doctoral students receive a $20,000 tuition award for three years.

Jahnavi Curlin, a scholar in the inaugural cohort, is completing an MPH in health policy and management at the University of California-Berkeley, after which she will complete her fourth and final year at the University of California-San Francisco medical school. Raised by an African American father and Indian immigrant mother, Curlin said she is especially passionate about serving immigrant populations in California. She plans to apply for an emergency medicine residency after finishing her MPH.

“Emergency medicine is often the first site of care for many people, and especially for uninsured people, people who might not typically go to health care providers,” Curlin said. “I'm especially interested in marginalized or disadvantaged populations, how they are perceived when they enter the emergency room, or really any health care space, (and) how providers treat those patients. And then, once we have a first point of access, how well can we link them into other types of care?”Group shot of people wearing masks

Rahsaan Overton, another 2022-2023 scholarship recipient, is working toward a DrPH in public health at Georgia State University after spending the past 10 years working in public health. Through his doctorate education, he hopes to apply a health equity lens to data collection.

“There's not enough minority representation…especially in public health,” Overton said. “What I'm learning in my doctoral program, and through my experience in public health work is that you need that representation to address the health disparities that exist in many of these communities. Having a seat at the table is important.”

The fellowship program: Serving communities on the ground

The APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Fellowship is focused on launching careers after graduation. Started last year, the fellowship is for early-career professionals who are committed to achieving health equity for all. 

Fellows work in public health job placements for a year, supporting and leading projects across Kaiser Permanente-served populations. The fellowships provide access to mentorship, professional development opportunities, coaching and workforce training. The class of 2022-2023 included 12 fellows, each receiving a $120,000 stipend.

“Kaiser Permanente and APHA recognize how important it is to have representation in public health,” said Eileen Lavelle, MA, fellowship program manager within APHA’s Center for Public Health Practice and Professional Development. “To see familiar faces, people you can connect with and engage with — diversity is a huge component of that. The fellowship is a thoughtful and strategic approach to reverse the trend of uniformity at the leadership level in public health. It's about giving access.”

Among those in the current fellowship cohort is Dejah Fa’asoa, who is focused on serving Pacific Island communities. Fa’asoa completed her MPH at the University of Hawaii at Manoa,  where she specialized in social behavioral health studies. For her fellowship, she was placed at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, where she is researching the role of behaviors and context on COVID-19 among Pacific Islanders.

“All of our ethnicities are so different,” Fa’asoa said. “We have very different issues and being all lumped together will literally skew the data. We really want to uplift that and let our policymakers know that we should be really focusing on our smaller communities that have just migrated over from the islands.”
Kristina Brandveen, another fellow, was placed at Regional Task Force on Homelessness in California after completing her MPH at the Colorado School of Public Health.

She said she is invested in immigrant and migrant health, particularly as it related to Hispanic, Indigenous and Black communities. In her fellowship placement in San Diego, Brandveen works with youth in the area who are experiencing homelessness, who are often more likely to be people of color.

“(Representation) is important because you have people that are actually caring about the communities that they're coming from…they can actually make those changes,” Brandveen said. “The fact that APHA and Kaiser Permanente were able to create a cohort that is extremely representative of the actual demographic of the U.S. says a lot.” 

For more information on the APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Leadership Program, visit the APHA website

Caption: Scholars and fellows in the APHA-Kaiser Permanente Community Health Leadership Program gather at APHA 2022 in Boston in November. (Photo by EZ Event Photography)