January 26, 2023

By Rodd A. Amos

Contributing Writer


Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science was founded in the aftermath of the Watts uprising in 1965 to help rectify the inequities in the healthcare system in south Los Angeles. The Historically Black Graduate Institute (HBGI) is one of the nation’s four Black medical schools, and California’s only historically Black university.

In 2006, CDU launched the Master of Public Health in Urban Health Disparities Program to improve community wellbeing through education, health promotion and disease prevention that focuses on the social determinants of health, social justices and inequity.

Dr. Sondos Islam, chair of the Department of Urban Public Health, discussed the impact on CDU’s public health graduate students.

“Our PH programs focus on health promotion and disease prevention by addressing the social determinants of health. Our students gain the knowledge and skills to prevent or try to reduce health issues impacting urban medically underserved communities (MUC) before they get sick, that is, before they need a doctor or a nurse,” said Islam.

“We have been successful in placing our public health graduates in organizations that serve the health needs. From 2016 through 2021, within 12 months of degree completion, 79 percent of our graduates were employed, 63 percent of whom were employed in organizations that serve the health needs of urban communities. The rest of our MPH graduates were pursuing further higher education including medical, nursing, and doctoral degrees.”

Dr. Bita Amani, chair of MPH Recruitment and Admissions, echoed the success of the program.

“We’ve created a place where different workers and disciplines can come together and talk about upstream factors that are limiting our abilities to grow and thrive. I would attribute the success of our program to content and curriculum, the diversities of occupations, and the fact that we are part of the rich tradition of historically black colleges and universities,” said Amani.

Dr. Islam, who has a preventive medicine academic portfolio focused on health behavior research of ethnically diverse communities, discussed the racial demographics of the program.

“Since we launched our [MPH] in 2006, 95 percent of our students are from underserved minority groups, and the majority are African American females.

However, we are gradually becoming more successful at enrolling more Hispanic students and more males,” he noted.

Dr. Amani, a socio-political epidemiologist who structures her public health research and instruction around larger questions of freedom and justice, shared the factors and extracurriculars that lead up to acceptance into the CDU MPH program.


“This is an answer that has changed. The program from the beginning was focused on disparities, inequity and justice, namely racism. So when I looked over the applications, I was looking for someone who had a track record of that kind of commitment and wanted to learn more about [the program].

Racism is a public health issue, so now we have to get a little more sophisticated with how we evaluate applications.

But we’re still looking to see in what communities you have volunteered, the diversities of the roles you’ve held, and with what organizations have you shown commitment to,” stated Amani.

Islam was awarded two Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grants: Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students (SDS), and Public Health Scholarship Program (PHSP), both of which provide scholarship awards to MPH and BSPH students from disadvantaged backgrounds that cover at least 60 percent of the PH program annual tuition, plus funds for education supplies.

Jennifer Alvarez (CDU MPH alumna), and program manager of CDU HRSA PHSP illustrates the factors that lead up to a scholarship offer.

“It’s part of our mission to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to not only get their education, but also to think about coming back to our community to find their place. Grade Point Average (GPA) and a holistic application are considered, but we're really looking at students who are invested in coming back to serving our community,” Alvarez said.

The CDU MPH will hold a virtual Open House on Monday, January 30. To register, visit https://bit.ly/3HnEbpW, or for more information, visit https://bit.ly/3JpfBqr

Category: Community