Successes and Opportunities for Leadership in State Health Departments for Public Health Professionals of Color

This entry is part 11 of 17 in the series July 2023

It is critical for public health professionals of color to have opportunities to showcase leadership skills at local and state health departments.

In our article titled “An Evaluation of the Successes of the NASTAD Minority Leadership Program and Its Implications for Leadership in State Health Departments,” my research team explored and evaluated the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) Minority Leadership Program (MLP) and its impact on public health professionals of color. Public health professionals of color experience significant challenges in the workplace, which include, but not limited to: microaggressions, institutional and systemic racism in the workplace, lack of diversity and many others. When it comes to funding for public health research, Black scientists are less likely than their White counterparts to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The reasoning, according to the article, is due to research topics, particularly those that center structural determinants of health that Black public health scientists tend to lean towards compared to other counterparts. Also, only 20% of staff of color working at a county health department believed there was a fair system for all staff to advance in managerial and leadership positions. All of these incidents make it challenging for public health professionals of color to truly advance in leadership positions in the public health field.

To properly address these inequities within our field, NASTAD created the MLP for public health professionals of color working in CDC-funded health departments to gain leadership skills and end health inequities. The MLP allows participants to have conversations around microaggressions, institutional racism in the workplace, how to engage in effective communication, and addressing burnout. Our research team evaluated the MLP from NASTAD to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program on alumni participants. Our research team used a mixed-method approach to evaluate MLP through surveys (n= 51), candidate applications (n=32 applicants) and key informant interviews (n=7 interviews).


  • 4% of survey respondents were Black/African American, followed by Asian (14.6%), and more than one race (12.6%)
  • 53% of survey respondents were promoted, received a title change, and/or a pay increase after completion of the MLP
  • Common themes that arose from the MLP candidate applications included: lack of diversity in the workplace and leadership, searching for professional growth opportunities, and in search of networking opportunities with other like-minded professionals                                 

Key Informant Interviews      

Throughout the key informant interviews, several barriers/challenges that we identified included: lack of diversity in leadership, leadership not addressing institutional and systemic racism, and others.

Participants provided feedback on potential recommendations and improvements of the program. Some of these recommendations included: incorporating language or content around policy brutality and racial injustices, plan events on an annual basis for past cohorts, and design the program to cater current MLP cohort members.      


Read the article

Overall, participants had a positive experience participating in the MLP. It is critical that NASTAD and other nationally recognized organizations continue to provide pipelines of leadership to public health professionals of color. These opportunities would allow public health professionals of color, working in state health departments or other public health organizations, gain the necessary skills      to address and eliminate health disparities. To learn more, please read our research report “An Evaluation of the Successes of the NASTAD Minority Leadership Program and Its Implications for Leadership in State Health Departments” in the July/August edition of JPHMP.

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Dr. Amutah-Onukagha’s commitment to health disparities and health equity research and evaluation began before she formally knew what the interdisciplinary field was called. As a Nigerian American woman, she is reminded daily of the inequities experienced by women of color. Thus, by virtue of her previous life experiences she believes she has always viewed inequity through the lens of a social epidemiologist interested in the social determinants of health. These life experiences have shaped her research and evaluation career and training to date and have undoubtedly deepened her commitment to research and evaluation pertaining to the health of people from marginalized backgrounds. She is fueled by an interest in inequitable life trajectories and outcomes as minority groups of people experience them. Dr. Amutah-Onukagha received her PhD in Public Health with a focus on Maternal and Child Health at the University of Maryland, College Park School of Public Health in 2010. She received her Masters in Public Health from The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Maternal and Child Health in 2005. Dr. Amutah-Onukagha is the President and Founder of Amaka Consulting and Evaluation Services (ACES), LLC.  As an evaluator and project director, she is equipped with expertise in the areas of health disparities, maternal and child health, and HIV/AIDS. Dr. Amutah-Onukagha has conducted evaluation work for organizations such as the March of Dimes, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Yale University, the University of North Carolina, and the American Public Health Association (APHA). In this capacity, she manages a team of over 40 consultants and subject matter experts to guide clients towards their intended outcomes with a keen focus on equity. ACES is a trusted minority and woman owned consultancy firm with deep expertise in program planning and evaluation within social science. Since its inception in 2016, ACES has provided invaluable technical expertise in areas such as health disparities, maternal and child health, program evaluation, grant writing, and mixed methods research. With more than 30 years of combined experience, the composition of research and evaluation associates within ACES reflect an array of technical skills and content knowledge to meet clients’ needs across many domains. ACES evaluation work is also rooted in our commitment to health equity, racial justice, and inclusion. ACES prides itself on maintaining a team of evaluation experts with varied expertise and backgrounds. Learn more at

Jacqueline Gifuni-Koutsouris, MPH, MCHES® is an evaluation professional with more than 6 years’ experience providing project management, technical assistance, and qualitative data analysis for ACES. Since receiving her MPH in Public Health from Montclair State University, Jacqueline worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sectors before beginning her formal consulting career.

Maame Araba Assan, MPH, CHES® is a public health educator, researcher, evaluator and health equity advocate with over five years’ experience working in non-profit, higher-education settings, and now consultancy with ACES. Ms. Assan received both her MPH and Bachelor of Science degrees in Public Health from Montclair State University.

Cierra Bryant, MPH, CHES® is a public health researcher and evaluator with specific focus areas in maternal child health, health equity, and social justice. Ms. Bryant received her Master’s in Public Health at Drexel University and a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Rosy Galvan works to operationalize equitable principles in public health programming, organizational practices, and workplace dynamics. Using frameworks rooted in community-led development, Rosy helps teams turn concepts into bold and actionable outcomes across settings. As the former Senior Director of Health Equity for NASTAD, Rosy led the Minority Leadership Program.

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