The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Wednesday announced an $80 million investment expanding training and certification programs for institutions serving students underrepresented in the field of public health informatics.
President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan awarded the funding to ONC as part of a $1.75 billion effort to strengthen the workforce related to disease surveillance. The grants were given to facilities able to oversee an expansion of the public health workforce's informatics capabilities, which explore technology solutions to prevent disease.
The ONC's program, named the Public Health Informatics and Technology Workforce Development Program (PHIT), is expected to train an additional 4,000 students attending "minority serving institutions" in public health informatics and data science. Experts say such partnerships facilitate a more diverse workforce pipeline.
A 15% rise in the amount of informatics and computer research scientists is expected by 2029—over twice the average growth rate of all occupations—according to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Yet, experts say Black, Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous students are often unaware of this growth potential. The lack of diversity in the current workforce means few students see the field as a career opportunity.
In a study by the Journal of Informatics in Health and Biomedicine, researchers analyzed 2,426 graduates with doctoral degrees in biomedical informatics from 2002 to 2017. Over 82% of those individuals accepted jobs immediately following graduation. A total of 12% comprised underrepresented populations, such as Hispanics (5.7%), Black (3.2%), and Indigenous (2.8%).
While the number of Asian graduates increased from over 20% to almost 40% during the 15 year period, the 12% proportion of underrepresented groups did not change. Targeted exposure through training and partnerships with organizations like the ONC is widely seen as a sustainable strategy to attract more diverse workers to the field.
ONC will release an official notice for the funding opportunity between late spring and early summer.