University Health Leaders Release Action Plan for Strengthening the Health Workforce


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Washington, DC – In response to strategic health workforce recommendations proposed last year by the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), learning partners of the Urban Universities for HEALTH initiative have produced an action plan for pursuing the strategic recommendations at urban institutions across the country. The plan, entitled “Urban Universities: An Action Plan for Transforming the Future Health Workforce,” is aimed at university leaders and health professions deans seeking to impact the health workforce in three key areas: 1) urban education pipeline programs and pathways to health careers, 2) cultural competence of institutions, and 3) health professions recruitment and admission practices.


The action plan represents the culmination of nearly six months of effort by a set of three interdisciplinary working groups, the USU Health Action Groups.  Members were drawn from USU institutions and together represent all geographic regions and health professions, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, and allied health.  Each of the six high-impact action items articulated in the plan were reviewed and prioritized by USU presidents and provosts during a special session of the USU summer meeting in June.

“The action items are a set of specific, measurable steps that universities can take to make progress toward their health workforce goals,” said Dr. Jennifer Danek, Senior Director for the Urban Universities for HEALTH initiative. “Although they are discrete projects, they’re projects that USU members can undertake together as a coalition, leveraging the collective expertise of our membership and allowing the coalition to move the dial toward improved health and reduced health disparities in our urban communities.”

For example, the action groups found that admission practices in the health professions rely heavily on test scores and lack sufficient means to evaluate other qualities (such as motivation, interpersonal skills, and life experience) that predict success in health careers.  “Holistic admission” is a promising practice widely used in medicine that gives balanced consideration to experience, personal attributes, and academic metrics, and takes into consideration the individual’s potential value as a student and member of society.  Expanding the practice of holistic review to other health professions may help to diversify the flow of students into the health professions and produce graduates willing to practice in underserved communities.  The action group determined that further evidence was needed to link the practice with positive (or nonnegative) student outcomes, as well as additional resources to help universities overcome the barriers of implementing holistic review.

Other top-priority action items included developing a national network of pipeline program administrators to share promising practices, and producing a guide for “cluster hiring” of faculty around health disparities research topics – an innovative practice that has the potential to transform campus climate, diversify the faculty body, and create additional mentoring and research opportunities for underrepresented students.

The action plan will inform USU’s health agenda for the next several years and will be used to develop future learning partners’ network activities for the Urban Universities for HEALTH initiative.

Download the action plan


About Urban Universities for HEALTH

Urban Universities for HEALTH (Health Equity through Alignment, Leadership and Transformation of the Health Workforce) is a partnership effort of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The project aims to address the severe shortage of qualified health professionals in underserved areas by leveraging the power of urban universities to enhance and expand a culturally sensitive, diverse, and prepared health workforce.