Dr. Alicia Best moves up the ladder in health equity

| CFH, Monday Letter, Our Accolades

The USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Alicia Best was appointed to the Southeastern Health Equity Council (SHEC). Best is an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health (CFH).

“The mission of the SHEC aligns with my life’s work – to improve the health and well-being of undeserved populations,” Best said.

The SHEC is one of 10 regional health equity councils in the United States formed as part of the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA), which is the first national multi-sector community and partnership driven effort on behalf of health equity.

A voluntary association, the SHEC consists of 40 voting members from eight southeastern states. Together, these leaders from diverse backgrounds including healthcare providers, health care-focused organizations and other non-profit organizations and businesses reinforce the need for multi-sector linkages as a key strategy for ending health disparities in the U.S.

Alicia L. Best, PhD, MPH, CHES (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Alicia L. Best, PhD, MPH, CHES (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

 

Best was born and raised on the southside of Chicago in the Englewood neighborhood. The youngest of three children, she was primarily raised by her grandmother after losing her mother to breast cancer.

“I think it’s important to mention these things because my experiences growing up in Chicago were actually my first exposures to public health and social determinants of health – I just didn’t know it at the time,” Best said. “I continue to revisit these experiences as they shape the way I practice public health.”

Best’s desire to pursue public health began when she was an undergraduate earning her bachelor’s degree in health information management at Alabama State University. Working as a clinical documentation specialist in a hospital’s cancer care center, she observed how cancer disproportionally affects low income populations and people of color.

“I began drawing links between my client’s stories and my own mother’s experience with cancer. The more I learned about cancer at the systems level, the more questions I had,” she said. “I decided to pursue graduate-level training in public health to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to answer these questions in a systematic way.”

After completing her undergraduate education, Best earned her MPH in health education and health promotion from Morehouse School of Medicine.

At Morehouse she spent time working with underserved communities and began conducting research around spirituality and African-American women’s health. It was during this time that she fell in love with public health; it provided the framework to address the issues she most cared about.

“Public health allowed me to merge all my interests in a meaningful way,” Best said.

Best later went on to earn her PhD in health promotion, education, and behavior along with a certificate of graduate study in health communications from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. She also received postdoctoral training in behavioral research with a focus on cancer disparities at the American Cancer Society.

 

Dr. Alicia Best joined COPH in June 2015 (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Dr. Alicia Best joined COPH in June 2015 (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

 

Prior to joining COPH, Best was director of community health at a federally qualified health center (FQHC) in Atlanta. This was a unique opportunity for her to strengthen community-academic partnerships, build research capacity at an FQHC and to foster trust with the surrounding community. The mission of FQHCs also closely resembled her own mission: to provide primary health care to underserved populations.

The interdisciplinary faculty and the collaborative environment in CFH is what attracted Best to USF. She chose COPH because of its strong focus on community engagement.

“I am a firm believer in the potential of community-academic partnerships as a means of creating health equity. I hope to use my current faculty position to create on-going, mutually-beneficial and trustworthy community-academic partnerships aimed at reducing health inequities both locally and nationally,” Best said.

As an assistant professor, Best conducts research focused on identifying, understanding, and contextualizing social and cultural factors influencing disparities across the cancer continuum and the use of communication strategies to better reach marginalized groups.

She also teaches graduate-level courses in health disparities, social marketing and socio-behavioral science and supervises a new undergraduate course on health disparities and social determinants of health.

Along with joining the COPH community, Best is excited about her opportunity to work with the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.

“My research program focuses on cancer-related health disparities, so I have been able to join the Health Outcomes and Behavior program at Moffitt as a collaborator member,” she said, “This provides additional opportunities for research funding, mentorship and research collaboration.”

Dr. Alicia Best (second row centered) with members of the Southeastern Health Equity Council (Photo courtesy of the Southeastern Health Equity Council)

Dr. Alicia Best (second row centered) with members of the Southeastern Health Equity Council (Photo courtesy of the Southeastern Health Equity Council)

 

Becoming a voting member for the Southeastern Health Equity Council further allows Best the opportunity to address these issues of health inequity on a larger scale.

“It allows me to have a voice at the table for our region and nationally,” she said.

Best is part of the SHEC Cultural Competency subcommittee and is specifically leading their efforts to inform policy regarding cultural competency training among providers serving vulnerable populations.

As a voting member, she must attend four quarterly council meetings per year, be actively engaged with her subcommittee, provide leadership and expertise to drive collaborative health equity agenda, collaborate on SHEC projects, foster sustainability of the SHEC and advocate for their goal for institutional and state-level policy changes that can reduce health disparities.

Echoing COPH’s motto Best said, “My practice is teaching and conducting cancer disparities research, my passion is creating health equity.”

 

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health