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Partnership with Pima County Health Department Improves the Health of Our Communities

The longstanding partnership between the Zuckerman College of Public Health and Pima County Health Department provides knowledge and experience that builds the region’s public health workforce, a collaboration that benefits both students and professionals, and improves health outcomes in our diverse Southern Arizona communities.

The vital partnership between the Pima County Health Department (PCHD) and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health (MEZCOPH) has provided lasting health benefits to our diverse Southern Arizona communities. Over the years, PCHD and the college have collaborated in ways large and small, and that collaboration has been very rewarding for the health department, for public health students, and for researchers in both organizations.

“Our partnership with Pima County Health Department has enabled the college to provide support for the vital public health work that PCHD does in the community,” said Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, MPH, dean of MEZCOPH, “And our collaboration also enables our student interns to get real-world experience that prepares them for careers and builds our public health workforce. It benefits everyone, most importantly our diverse communities here in Southern Arizona.”

Over the past several months during the COVID-19 crisis, the partnership proved especially important. The SAFER (Student Aid for Field Epidemiology Response) student team provided key support for PCHD by conducting contact tracing and case investigations of positive COVID-19 cases. During the same time, faculty and students worked with PCHD’s COVID-19 School Advisory Committee to support the safe reopening of schools in Pima County. And when the vaccines became available, the Alliance for Vaccine Literacy, a group of faculty and students at the college, conducted surveys and focus groups in collaboration with PCHD to better understand vaccine attitudes and improve vaccine promotion communications.

PCHD Director Theresa Cullen, MD, MS, who started in her leadership role with the department in April 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, has been a strong supporter of the partnership. She also worked closely with University of Arizona leadership to plan and coordinate COVID response and the Fall 2020 reopening of the university, and she continues to coordinate with UArizona leadership and the SAFER team on pandemic response in Pima County as the Delta variant spreads. Dr. Cullen, a former assistant US Surgeon General, was appointed as an Adjunct Professor with MEZCOPH, alongside PCHD Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Francisco Garcia, MD, MPH, who serves as Distinguished Outreach Professor of Public Health, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Mexican American Studies and Clinical Pharmacy at the college.

Quote from Theresa Cullen on Pima County's partnership with MEZCOPH

“We’re very fortunate to have a strong college of public health right here in Tucson at the University of Arizona,” said Dr. Cullen, “The pandemic has underscored the value of our partnership. Student interns from the college have supported our staff in so many ways in response to COVID. And we really value the trained public health graduates who join our team and can jump in to meet the health needs of our community. We help each other, and ultimately we help make Pima County a healthier place.”

During the pandemic, many public health student interns worked with staff at PCHD to create programming and communication materials to guide the public and schools on pandemic related topics. Yet the student internships with PCHD began long before the COVID crisis. Since 2018, PCHD has hosted over 95 MEZCOPH student interns! This constant collaboration led to a more formal partnership when the Academic Health Department (AHD) at PCHD was established through a Memorandum of Understanding between MEZCOPH and PCHD in June 2019. This mutually beneficial partnership is designed to enhance public health instruction, practice, research, and workforce development to improve health in Pima County.

Currently, PCHD is recruiting for public health graduates to fill many roles that will serve the community. We encourage our graduates to apply and launch their public health career! You can learn about the open positions on this PCHD jobs website.

Until recently, Emily Waldron, MPH coordinated the MEZCOPH internships with PCHD, and the partnership was so successful that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) featured the AHD in a news story about the collaboration as a model internship program. You can learn more about all the ways that PCHD and MEZCOPH collaborate on the webpage for the Academic Health Departments under the Office of Community Engagement and Outreach on the MEZCOPH website. Thank you Pima County Health Department for all you do to help the community and to build our future public health workforce!

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