NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A new health care class is coming to Norfolk State University for the fall semester, but it’s different than the rest.

The program combines health care learning with data and information technology in hopes of bettering the medical field.

The inspiration for this program came from holes in the medical field that were brought to light during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSU Director of Allied Health Programs Dr. Marie St. Rose said low employment and a lack of diversity in the industry were just a few of those problems.

She said this new program can help fix that.

“A diverse workforce does improve health equity, it improves health outcomes, and we have a diverse pool of people that can give inputs and insights,” St. Rose said, “and there’s a whole lot of stuff we can do with diverse representation.”

The program came from $5 million in funding in 2021 from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHs) under the Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program.

One hundred and ten spots are available collectively for the fall 2023 and fall 2024 school years, and 57 students have enrolled in the program for this year. It’s an online program with 33 credits including six credits for an internship.

“Virginia Department of Health and Hampton Roads Community Center, … they will be helping us with the internships and after students complete and graduate, they will also help us to help students find jobs,” she said.

Grad student Hope Strachan has enrolled in the program.

Being a nurse herself, she said diversity in health care has long been an issue.

However, she believes the technology aspect of this program can help solve that.

“If we don’t have the systems in place to streamline the process so that everyone can receive the information, then how can we address it,” Strachan said.

She applauded the online format, saying it’ll help increase diversity even more.

“Worldwide, different states — we’ll be able to come together,” Strachan said. “… In order for us to connect and collaborate, that’s where that technical aspect comes in place.”

The funding for the program from the Department of Health and Human Services only supports it until September 2025.

However, St. Rose said Norfolk State will continue to run the program after that.