NIU Ph.D. in Health Sciences graduates first two candidates

The Northern Illinois University Ph.D. in Health Sciences program recently congratulated their first two graduates.

Hana Hinkle and Steven Hinojosa both successfully defended their doctoral dissertations this fall, and became the first to receive their doctorates through the Ph.D. program which accepted its first cohort in 2015.

Steven Hinojosa receives his doctoral hood from his academic mentor, NIU Associate Professor of Health Studies Jinsook Kim.

“I give credit to them as part of our first class, as we opened the program and they began their journey toward a doctoral degree,” said Beverly Henry, NIU associate dean, College of Health and Human Sciences. “It is gratifying to see their achievements from early class discussions to seeing dissertation defenses. We are very proud of them.”

Hinkle’s dissertation, “Cultural Competence Training Model for the Public Health Workforce: Public Health Cares” investigates public health workforce bias and lower outcomes in racial areas, and ways to better train workers to mitigate reasons for disparity.

Hinojosa’s dissertation, “An Epidemiological Study of Invasive Pneumococcal Disease in a South Texas-Mexico Border Metropolitan Community,” investigates the incidence of the disease as well as disease risk factors and prevalence of pneumococcal vaccination history.

Hinkle was working in academic medicine and rural health and Hinojosa were working in public health roles while they pursued their degrees. Both chose the NIU program in part because of its multidisciplinary approach.

“I applied to a few programs across the nation. A lot of them focused in public health, administration, or health education fields. After I read about NIU’s program, it got me interested. The interdisciplinary approach of coming together to make the population healthier made me excited about the program’s mission,” Hinojosa said.

Hinkle said the Ph.D. program’s interdisciplinary nature was a highlight of her studies. “Ph.D. programs in a specific discipline tend to create silos in the coursework. NIU’s program allowed me to train with people from all disciplines and sectors – health administration, laboratory sciences and public health . Our cohort of different backgrounds helped our collective understanding and application of course content which was beneficial to our development as future scholars and researchers,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle pursued a doctorate degree to prepare for career advancement.

“I wanted to expand my research skills that I had developed in practice through more intensive training in research methodologies,” she said.

Research training was important to Hinojosa as well.

While pursuing his doctorate, Hinojosa continued his role as the lead epidemiologist at Hidalgo County Health and Human Services in Texas. The NIU Ph.D. in H.S. allowed him to work on his degree and use the data from his research to effect evidence-based outcomes in his community.

Hinojosa is already putting his findings to work. His research showed low vaccination rates in people 65 and over, with many people not realizing you need some vaccinations throughout your life and not just in childhood.

“One of the most exciting things about my research is that I have begun meeting with our local hospitals to discuss targeted approaches towards pneumococcal vaccination,” Hinojosa said. “We are looking at increasing education on these research results to our medical community and they are very receptive.”

Hinkle recently became a research assistant professor, and said combining her Ph.D. and on-the-job knowledge has set her up to pursue top leadership positions in her field.

“Having a Ph.D. can help to broaden the impact of your research and discoveries,” Hinkle said. She plans expand on her dissertation project to identify health departments that haven’t had past cultural competence training and address some of the gaps they have.

Daniel Boutin, NIU Ph.D. program director said Hinkle and Hinojosa were exemplary students.

“I am very pleased but not surprised at the recent educational achievements of Drs. Hinkle and Hinojosa. They maintained high levels of motivation throughout their studies and benefitted from their talented peers,” Boutin said. “The fact that these two individuals are the first to graduate from this rigorous program is testament to their dedication and hard work. I am fully confident they will make a positive impact to society.”

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