New Mexico State University aims to increase health equity across New Mexico and improve the health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities through a new Ph.D. program developed in collaboration with the University of New Mexico.

NMSU’s Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Health, Education and Social Transformation has partnered with UNM’s College of Population Health to offer the only Ph.D. program in health equity sciences in New Mexico that will train the next generation of researchers, professionals and advocates to eliminate health disparities.

The program is designed to facilitate basic and applied research to address social, structural and environmental barriers to health, including poverty, discrimination and racism. The first cohort at NMSU will start the 54-credit hour program this fall.

“This program is unique because of its focus on health equity,” said Rebecca Palacios, NMSU professor of public health and director of the program. “It is one of only a few doctoral programs explicitly focused on eliminating health disparities and promoting health equity. It will leverage existing population and public health resources at NMSU and UNM to create a nationally competitive Ph.D. program.”

A team of faculty members from the Department of Public Health Sciences designed and developed the new program. The group, led by Joe Tomaka, included Jagdish Khubchandani, Karen Kopera-Frye, Sue Forster-Cox, Tamara Stimatze and Palacios.

Palacios said students in the program will learn how to understand and research social, environmental and policy determinants of health outcomes. They will also learn how to plan, implement and evaluate programs to reduce and eliminate health disparities and develop public policies that promote health equity.

The program includes core and concentration coursework and dissertation hours. The core curriculum covers advanced research methods, applied research skills and a doctoral seminar.

Students will also complete 12 credits in a chosen concentration area. NMSU will offer concentrations in environmental and occupational health, socio-cultural and behavioral sciences, health across the lifespan, and health administration and policy. NMSU and UNM will both offer a joint concentration in applied biostatistics.

“Students will develop the skills necessary to address growing and complex problems that underlie health and health care inequities and emerging health threats,” Palacios said.

Students who complete the program will become proficient in conducting and publishing original research that addresses the causes, consequences and avenues for eliminating health inequities, while employing quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and statistical analyses to address health equity.

Palacios said the program grew out of a need to address persistent health disparities in one of the nation’s poorest states. She pointed out that people of color, recent immigrants and those living in rural areas experience negative health outcomes at far higher rates than their white counterparts.

“Health equity is about rectifying this situation,” she said.

Palacios said the idea for the program initially developed late last decade following growing xenophobia and hostility toward people of color and immigrants. She added that COVID-19, which caused disproportionate negative health outcomes in racial and ethnic minority groups, hastened the need for the program.

Palacios said the program will provide graduates with comprehensive research training to prepare them for leadership positions in state, federal and global governmental and non-governmental agencies; public health and social justice organizations; health care provider organizations; and institutions of higher learning.

“The program is for serious individuals who are willing and able to dedicate themselves fully to research and research-based approaches to improving health outcomes for underserved and marginalized communities,” she said. “We anticipate that such individuals will become the next generation of public health leaders, academics and policymakers.”

UNM will have a separate program, Palacios said.

“The NMSU and UNM programs are cooperative but independent. Students will enroll and graduate from a single university,” she said.

She added that UNM’s program will have different core curricular requirements and concentrations. Students in the NMSU program are not required to take courses at UNM, but they may do so if UNM offers courses of interest not available at NMSU.

Palacio said NMSU’s program is shorter than UNM’s because it requires a Master of Public Health or a health-related master’s degree for admission. UNM’s program has different admission requirements.

For more information about the NMSU program, contact Leah Henderson at 575-646-4300 or

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