Alumnus Noel Brathwaite '83 to lead state health disparities office
University of Maryland graduate Dr. Noel Brathwaite (PhD Health Education, ’83) has been named director of Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (MHHD). A native of Barbados, Dr. Brathwaite is an international expert on public health issues in the United States, the Caribbean, and parts of West and East Africa.
Dr. Brathwaite was the first PhD student that Professor Robert Feldman (Behavior and Community Health) advised in his long UMD career. “Noel was highly motivated, and a bright student,” Dr. Feldman said. “Given his experience and background, he should make an important contribution to the state.”
Dr. Feldman sees “a lot of potential in terms of possible collaborations. Having someone as a MHHD director who has ties to the University of Maryland is a hopeful sign.”
Dr. Stephen Thomas, director of the SPH’s Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE), was also in College Park as a new faculty member when Dr. Brathwaite was here for his doctoral studies.
In a phone interview, Dr. Brathwaite spoke about collaboration between MHHD and M-CHE. “I have a special interest in health equity as Dr. Thomas has, and we want collaboration because we believe that knowledge is generated and stored and then disseminated from the university. To the extent that M-CHE can provide us with a body of knowledge that we can then use to formulate programs and policies and make changes to transform populations and systems, we will continue to collaborate.”
Dr. Brathwaite continued, “There’s a need for the university to assist the health department to go forward in terms of applying research and technology to answering and addressing the issues of health disparities and health equity. I put the university on notice that we would like them to be partners with us. They have a role to play in helping us to advance health equity through research and student engagement. There’s a definite role.”
Pointing to the Health in All Policies legislation that was recently approved by the state legislature, and to M-CHE’s Health Enterprise Zone project, among other initiatives, Dr. Thomas said, “Those are details we’re working on to better integrate the M-CHE as an extension of the state’s capacity to address the needs of local community-based organizations charged with programs to eliminate health disparities. We’d be the place for training, technical assistance, evaluation and support.”
Dr. Thomas said, “If I were to characterize Dr. Brathwaite, I would use the metaphor, ‘still waters run deep.’ There’s a certain reserve about him. He’s a listener first; he gathers his information before he speaks. But no one should take his quiet demeanor for granted with regard to his passion for taking action. He is quietly gathering the data, amassing the information, planning the strategy, building the team to take action. He does that in a very effective way.”
Prior to joining MHHD, Dr. Brathwaite organized the Greater Los Angeles Health Network to collaboratively tackle urban and suburban issues of health that continue to disproportionately impact people of African descent. Some of his other past experiences include leadership positions with the Florida Department of Health, the University of Miami School of Medicine Cancer Center, Morehouse School of Medicine International and Public Health Program, and as Director of Research in Trinidad.
Before Dr. Brathwaite came to UMD for his doctoral degree, he graduated from Loma Linda University. From College Park, he went on to pursue postdoctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Brathwaite also studied at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto, Canada.
His vision is to work collaboratively with the MHHD team and other stakeholders to position the MHHD as a transformative and innovative agent that significantly lowers health disparities within the next decade. His goal is to advance prevention, equal health care access, quality treatment and improved health for all populations in Maryland.
“This is a robust relationship and I look forward to strengthening the relationship between our department and the universities across Maryland,” Dr. Brathwaite said.
“He gets it,” Dr. Thomas said.