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New Center for Health Equity Executive Director Brings Passion to Mission

Her aim is to advance community health by dismantling systemic drivers of inequity

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Written by Guest Contributor on February 20, 2024

While new to her position as executive director of the recently launched Center for Health Equity, Deborah Parra-Medina, MPH, PhD, FAAHB, already has a vested interest. Parra-Medina followed her eldest daughter and grandchildren to Colorado, so her professional mission of ensuring healthy and thriving communities is personal.

An epidemiologist by training, Parra-Medina joins the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus from a similar role as the inaugural director of the Latino Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. The Center for Health Equity launched Jan. 1, 2024, and housed purposefully outside specific schools or colleges on campus, will unite scholars and students engaged in health equity work.

Read the official announcement of the appointment.

“We brought in an outside community advisory board to help us strategize around this the center’s mission and goals,” said Regina Richards, PhD, MSW, vice chancellor of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. “Our community advisory board, made up of internal and external individuals, will work directly with Dr. Parra-Medina to hold the campus accountable for what we said we would do with this center.”

Parra-Medina, whose own research focuses on community-based intervention trials for chronic disease prevention, talks more about the mission and goals of the center in the condensed Q&A below.

Q&A Header

What is the primary purpose of the Center for Health Equity?

Our mission is to advance community health, wealth and well-being by dismantling racism, oppression and other systemic drivers of inequity, to create equitable opportunities through learning, service, research and advocacy.

What drew you to this position at CU Anschutz?

I saw here a real commitment to partner with the local community and a focus on improving health and well-being in collaboration with the community in response to their values and needs.

It is a very different approach from many other centers for health equity where the funding sources usually predefine the research agenda or the focus. Our model allows us to be more responsive to what the community identifies as priorities and uses their strengths to build on.

How can members on campus engage with the center?

Whether you're a researcher, a policy advocate, or an educator, you can find alignment with our center’s goals. I want to bring our campus together and leverage our collective resources to create a nationally recognized program of research, education, training and outreach that promotes health equity.

We plan to host a symposium this coming year to showcase the campus’s activities in health equity. From there, we will develop thematic working groups and a seed grant program that would foster interdisciplinary and community collaborations.

Where will your initiatives focus?

Firstly, the center will train students, faculty and research staff on campus, as well as community members, in health equity. We will foster a co-learning environment where the community is learning from us, and we are learning from them about how to achieve our mission. The center always has the community – the people who we want to benefit from the programs or initiatives and research – central in what we do.

How does the Center for Health Equity differ from other centers or departments on campus?

The Center for Health Equity is focused on addressing differences in social determinants of health. We go beyond the clinical and into the community, working with community-based organizations, churches, schools, etc., to address non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. If you don't have a healthy community with good schools, livable wages, affordable housing, safe communities and streets, access to healthcare people cannot have healthy lives.

Is there anything we missed?

I'm not local, which has its advantages and its disadvantages. There is a major learning curve, but I'm open to new ideas.

One of my major motivators for coming to Colorado is that my family moved here – I want my granddaughters to grow in a thriving community. I want to be sure that we do our best to create an environment where all children can grow healthy and strong and live to their full potential. That's the thing about health equity – we strive to create environments where everyone can attain their highest level of health.

Guest contributor: Laura Veith is a freelance writer.

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Deborah Parra-Medina, MPH, PhD, FAAHB