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Minority Fellowship Program Aims to Reduce Health Disparities by Increasing Culturally Competent Pro

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Date: May 11, 2022 Categories: Minority Health, Substance Use, Mental Health

For many people with substance use disorders, access to care in the United States is inadequate, but for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) (PDF | 335 KB), the situation is worse. SAMHSA’s Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) seeks to encourage racial and ethnic minorities to enter the behavioral health field and to increase the number of culturally competent health care professionals as a way to enhance healthcare.

Being culturally competent and aware is to be respectful and inclusive of the health beliefs and attitudes, healing practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of different population groups. Behavioral health practitioners can bring about positive change by better understanding the differing cultural context among various communities and being willing and able to work within that context.

In the 1990s, SAMHSA’s Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, was a participant in the MFP. “The fellowship was so impactful in terms of my life, my career, and my areas of focus in the work that I'm even doing now,” Dr. Delphin-Rittmon said.

For example, prior to her current appointment as Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr. Delphin-Rittmon completed a two-year White House appointment in 2014 working as a senior advisor to the SAMHSA Administrator. During that time, she says, “I did a secondary data analysis of the SAMHSA Pregnant and Postpartum Women Program. It helped us better understand how that program is reaching communities and the patterns and trends relating to race and ethnicity. That’s one of our key priority areas now – equity as a cross-cutting principle.”

Initiated in 1973, the MFP was originally designed to focus on increasing the number of doctoral-level professionals. However, in 2014, under President Obama’s Now Is The Time initiative, SAMHSA expanded the program to increase the number of culturally competent, master’s-level behavioral health professionals available to serve youth ages 16 to 25.

The MFP helps foster specialized training of behavioral health professionals in the following disciplines:

  • Marriage and family therapy

  • Nursing

  • Professional counseling

  • Psychiatry

  • Psychology

  • Social work

  • Addictions treatment

Each year some 200 fellows (master’s-level or postgraduate students) are accepted into the MFP. The program is administered by SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services and Center for Substance Abuse Treatment through several MFP grantee organizations. Each MFP grantee individually manages the application approval process and program activities for their given disciplines. Approved applicants are offered scholarships, tuition assistance, and professional training as benefits of program enrollment.

Training can include career-enhancing seminars and webinars on cutting-edge behavioral health practices and sponsored attendance at professional conferences and meetings. It might also include practicum placements, externships, and internships that provide individualized mentoring, supervision, and clinical interactions with racial and ethnic minority populations. Fellows will also have access to a listserv for dissemination of information and networking, a resource library, and an e-newsletter that highlights MFP grantees, alumni, and current Fellows, professional development opportunities, and a “news and views” section.

After nearly 50 years in existence, Dr. Delphin-Rittmon says, the MFP is “one piece of the puzzle to address the behavioral health inequities in our nation. We need to build upon these workforce efforts to create more diversity among professionals and thus reduce barriers to behavioral healthcare access for minorities.” Resources

The SAMHSA TIP 59: Improving Cultural Competence is a guide that helps professional care providers and administrators understand the role of culture in the delivery of mental health and substance use services. It describes cultural competence and discusses racial, ethnic, and cultural considerations.

Improving Cultural Competency for Behavioral Health Professionals (Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Minority Health (HHS/OMH)) is a free, e-learning program to help behavioral health professionals increase their cultural and linguistic competency offered by the HHS OMH and was collaboratively developed with SAMHSA and other federal and external partners.

The Behavioral Health Implementation Guide for the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care was developed in collaboration with SAMHSA and underscores the ways in which the National CLAS Standards can improve access to and quality of behavioral health care to underserved minority communities. It provides concrete, feasible implementation strategies for the health and behavioral health care community to improve the provision of services to all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and other cultural characteristics.

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