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Learn about program revisions starting Academic Year 2024-25

Cultivating public health leadership Heading link

The need for public health leaders has never been greater. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need for the U.S. public health system to address the profound health inequities resulting from long-standing historical and structural racism and other economic and social injustices. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing a climate emergency, inadequate food systems, a growing burden of mental health problems, and a rise in low-wage, precarious work.

The UIC DrPH Program is a completely online program and is tailored to mid-career public health professionals who want to expand their knowledge and practice of public health and strengthen their leadership capabilities to address these complex challenges. Few practitioners in public health have doctoral-level degrees, and few doctoral programs focus on developing leadership skills specific to the public health arena. The DrPH degree offered at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois Chicago provides comprehensive training aligned with the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) DrPH Competencies with a focus on leadership, equity, and transformational systems change. With the flexibility to learn from anywhere worldwide, students in the DrPH program will join a community of peers and renowned faculty en route to a remarkable educational experience.

The UIC Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Leadership Program focuses on adaptive leadership as an approach that most resonates with conditions facing the public health field today. Adaptive leadership is fundamentally about using leadership skills to assist a community or organization face an adaptive challenge — a problem or issue characterized by complexity and for which no technical solution can be readily employed using conventional technical expertise or traditional management skills.  Adaptive challenges usually require transformational change and leadership in both definition and resolution.

The DrPH Program believes that many of the adaptive challenges that impact the health and well-being of populations relate to the social and structural determinants of health and health equity.  Achieving health equity – the attainment of the highest level of health for all people, requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities (Healthy People 2030).  The social determinants of health (SDOH) are the non-biological and non-medical factors that influence health outcomes.  Addressing SDOH is fundamental for improving health and reducing longstanding inequities in health.  (WHO, 2022)

Among the social and structural factors that are at the root of many long-standing inequities in health in our world is racism. Racism is defined as a “system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks…  that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and undermines realization of the full potential of our whole society through the waste of human resources.”(APHA, 2022)

This understanding informs the DrPH emphasis on addressing equity through anti-racism in public health, encompassing a breadth of ideas, language and theories and deliberate, conscious actions by individuals and organizations to 1) expose structures, policies, and practices that create and sustain racial disparities in health; and 2) confront the underlying root causes of inequities. Our goal for public health centers on dismantling structural racism and transforming systems to realize equity for all.

The DrPH Program vision follows from this commitment to equity and anti-racism – “to build a cadre of dedicated public health leaders who can set strategic direction, drive transformational change, create responsive systems, and contribute to the evidence base of public health practice, while incorporating anti-racism and equity in what they do.”  Begun in 2021, much groundwork has been done, but much is still ‘in progress’.  The work is emerging, evolving and ongoing.  The program has and continues to engage students, faculty, staff and the School at-large in a continuous process to align the curriculum, content, and emphasis with this vision.

The UIC DrPH Program curriculum is organized around a collection of leadership skills that are most called upon to generate adaptive leadership. These include specific skills that directly lead to leadership development and other research and practice skills that are needed to inform an adaptive challenge. The program is competency-driven, following the recommendations of the Association of Schools of & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) and the requirements of the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) for the Doctor of Public Health degree.  Our curriculum is aligned with the 20 foundational competencies promulgated by CEPH.  In addition, as required by CEPH, the DrPH degree program identifies five concentration competencies, focused on leadership principles which are central to the program’s mission and vision.  In completing the curriculum, students will achieve a level of mastery for each competency, recognizing that each student will approach these from an individual perspective in line with their academic and professional background, interests, and leadership goals.

The UIC DrPH Program employs a research approach that emphasizes systems thinking; novel and applied research designs; mixed methods; and engaged scholarship that seeks to meet the needs of practice challenges and intends to inform or impact an adaptive problem, thereby contributing to the evidence base of public health practice.

DrPH approaches to address complex "wicked problems" Heading link

Equity Focused:

illustration of hands raised

A core principle of adaptive leadership recognizes that social structures all around us have historically evolved invisible but real institutional barriers that impair the ability of some population groups to enjoy the full benefits of health and equal participation in community life, and actively attempts to surface and confront these barriers in the course of problem-solving activities conducted by organizations and communities

Evidence Based:

Interior of room with a lecturer and listening audience

An approach to investigation into organizational or community challenges that draws on the tenets of science but maintains a pragmatic focus on experience-based problem solving to gather real-world data and employs systematic methods and critical thinking related to those who are directly experiencing the problem.

Adaptive Leadership:

Dr. Welter in front a classroom

The collaborative approach to leadership that generates commitment by groups, organizations and communities to face and resolve complex challenges requiring significant change that rise above the usual management problems of everyday organizational life.

System Change:

Leaders at a roundtable discussion

Requires systems thinking and involves the identification and transformation of multiple higher-level structures and practices needed to address the complexity of “wicked” problems faced by organizations and communities, which have resisted more conventional pragmatic or technical solutions.

DrPH student recognized as a rising leader in public health Heading link

Image of Tooka Zokaie. Image text: de Beaumont Foundation 40 under 40 in public health.  Tooka Zokaie, senior health policy analyst, California Dental Association.

Tooka Zokaie, California Dental Association senior health policy analyst was named to the de Beaumont Foundation’s 40 Under 40 in Public Health.

New scholarship honors legacy of DrPH student Heading link

A new scholarship honors the memory of André Gilmore Stanley, a proud member of SPH’s 2016 DrPH cohort and a policy analyst for the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.  The scholarship focuses on equity and anti-racism, one of André’s focal points in public health.  Meet our scholarship recipients below, read more about the scholarship and make a donation.


Trevia Brooks photo.

Senior Public Health Advisor, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control (DCPC), National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Research Proposal

I am proposing to conduct a case study design using a qualitative approach looking at addressing gun violence. This approach will allow the exploration of the innovative approach of a community-based organization that effectively addresses gun violence. The case study design will afford me the opportunity to conduct in-depth data collection and analysis in three phases using the following methods, document reviews, observation, semi-structured interviews, and facilitated discussion.

Gun violence is a complex and adaptive issue of epic proportions in the United States. National public health approaches are largely absent due to political controversy and/or commercial determinants, which focus only on the profits related to the manufacturing and sales of firearms and not the health of or impact on the population. Until recently, gun violence has been looked at politically and not as a public health issue. Recently, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) said, “gun violence should be considered a public health issue, not a political one—an epidemic that needs to be addressed with research and evidence-based strategies that can reduce morbidity and mortality.”

I plan to use the funds from the award to assist with:

  1. providing a token of appreciation (e.g., gift cards) for the interviewees and program participants at the partner/community-based organization for their time, participation, and support of my research;
  2. assisting with transportation cost to travel to conduct interviews and observation in person;
  3. to cover refreshments/water and incidentals at partner/community-based organization for interviewees and program participants.
Stacey Cunningham photo.
Senior Project Director, National Institute for Children’s Health Quality
  • Project Director, National Network for Perinatal Quality Collaboratives
  • Project Director, Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health, Quality Improvement Community of Learning

Research Proposal

My proposed dissertation research will utilize a qualitative case study design to explore how systemic and structural racism, as well as bias may exist within hospital-based care and how these factors contribute to inequities in maternal morbidity occurrences among Black women. Furthermore, hospital organizational factors including delivery of care, hospital and patient safety culture, and communication among providers and staff will also be explored. This combination of factors and their relationship to maternal health outcomes has not been widely researched. Therefore, I aim to further inform the public health field on the critical role that the hospital infrastructure and its organizational culture plays in obstetrical outcomes, patient safety, and the delivery of maternal care. I intend to conduct semi-structured interviews with hospital administrators and staff within Illinois birthing facilities to help answer my research questions:

  • How do organizational factors influence the delivery of care within Illinois hospitals?
  • How do hospital labor and delivery practices impact patient safety?

DrPH faculty, student, and alumni impact on public health Heading link

Tina Tong photo.

In May of 2022, Tina Tong (2017 cohort) received the 2021 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Meritorious Service.  This award is the second-highest honor award granted by the department and is conferred by the Secretary. No more than ten awards are granted annually. The award recognizes HHS leaders for their achievements and for inspiring others to improve their performance. As part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Project Coordination Team as the clinical co-lead for the AstraZeneca and Sanofi Ph3 vaccine programs, Tina was honored with this award. Tina also received a commendation letter from President Biden for her work on COVID vaccines. She also recently published new findings on the vaccine development experienced. In 2022, she earned the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ merit awards for her efforts in phase III COVID-19 vaccine trials and experimental medicine studies for novel HIV vaccines.

Feygele Jacobs photo.

Feygele Jacobs, DrPH (2012 cohort), was recently named the new director of the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health at George Washington University. Jacobs, formerly the president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, collaborated closely in establishing and developing Geiger Gibson Program.  Jacobs has a long and celebrated career in administration of health care programs and services for medically underserved populations, first as a hospital executive and later as a senior executive overseeing one of the nation’s first and most successful health center-led Medicaid managed care plans.

Wuleta Betemariam photo.

Wuleta Betemariam, DrPH (2013 cohort), has been named director of JSI’s Center for Healthy Women, Children, and Communities. JSI is a global public health consulting organization dedicated to greater health equity and improving the health of individuals and communities, and to providing an environment where people of passion can pursue this cause. The Center leads JSI’s reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health work, developing and implementing state-of-the-art, sustainable programs that are integrated with health systems strengthening efforts to achieve universal health coverage.

Gwen Foster photo.

Col. Gwen Foster (2019 cohort) is the new senior medical advisor to Lt. Gen. Robert Irving Miller, Surgeon General for the U.S. Air Force. Previously, she served as the Air Force’s Defense Health Agency Sacramento market director and 60th Medical Group commander. She says her DrPH education is a key asset in her new leadership role with the Air Force at the Pentagon.  “I now have the words to systems thinking and organizational behaviors and, really, I was already doing the dance between the balcony and the floor, but now I can articulate to my team better what and why I am doing it and see that it impacts how I lead,” Foster said.