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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland Study Examines Paths to Public Health Careers among Disadvantaged High Schoolers

A new study led by Dr. Bradley O. Boekeloo and a team of researchers from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health found that minority high school students from low socioeconomic areas were more inclined to pursue public health as a career if they had received encouragement from mentor figures or had a personal connection to certain health experiences. Taking public health courses and participating in science-related extracurricular activities produced a weaker correlation with students’ intention to pursue a public health career, the researchers found.

The study utilizes data from “Climbing Up and Reaching Back” (CURB), a longitudinal study that examines predictors and conducts mentoring interventions that encourage minority students to pursue health careers. The participants, who were recruited from six different high schools in Prince George’s County, were surveyed from the tenth grade through their senior year of high school. All of the students who participated in the program were from racial and ethnic minority groups The majority of the participants were female.

The students were part of a path study that assesses the relationship between possible variables that influence the decision to pursue public health science as a professional vocation. Specifically, the path study aimed to determine whether high school science courses, extracurricular activities, personal health experiences and adult experiences are related to Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) constructs, which include attitude, motivation to comply with mentor or authority figures, and beliefs regarding academic standards for entering a college health science program. According to the study, these constructs can determine a student’s likelihood to join a college health science program.

The study showed that science courses and extracurricular activities are less likely than intangible factors, such as encouragement from adults or mentor figures, to produce a pathway to a health science career. While students who study science are generally more prepared for a college health science program, broad, unfocused science courses often fail to create a pathway for students, the study read. In order to influence students, a science training program must be intensive.

“Such intensive, in-depth science training may be lacking in many underserved neighborhood schools like those in the study, potentially undermining students’ motivation to pursue college health science,” the study read.

Instead, students who received encouragement from mentor figures or had a personal connection to certain health experiences showed a stronger inclination for pursuing public health as a career, which suggests that attitudes, as well as the expectations of others, are more effective motivators for adolescents considering a career in health science.

According to the study, health specialists who have a personal connection to disadvantage have deeper insights needed to work in underserved communities.

“It has been observed that healthcare professionals who have personally experienced disadvantage are more likely to care for the disadvantaged,” the study read.

“Exposures Associated with Minority High Schoolers’ Predisposition for Health Science” was written by Drs. Bradley O. Boekeloo, Alyssa Todaro Brooks, and Min Qi Wang and published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.