Liu brings broad view of diversity in health care, public health

Darren Liu, Dr.P.H., M.H.A., M.S., contributes to Des Moines University, its students and to his professional fields in diverse ways, including those that seek to enhance diversity.

Darren Liu
Dr. Darren Liu

An associate professor in DMU’s master of public health and master of health care administration programs, he is an enthusiastic educator and a prolific researcher and author. In 2020 alone, he had published one book, as lead author, and six articles, including three on which he was the lead author.

The book, Isms in Health Care Human Resources: A Concise Guide to Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Jones & Bartlett Learning), fosters understanding of how “isms” in health care – defined in the book as “adverse beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that are directed toward others who are different” – can reduce output and elevate costs.

“It’s a good time for organizations, universities and hospitals to ask, ‘Are we there yet in truly appreciating diversity?’ It’s a buzzword that’s easy to talk about, but it has to be more than checking a box,” he says. “Not only do we need to talk about it, but we need to let different voices be heard, and it has to come from the top down.”

Dr. Liu also was lead author of the 2018 book, The Challenges of Health Disparities: Implications and Actions for Health Care Professionals (Jones & Bartlett Learning), which has the “highly ambitious” purpose of “reconstructing the field of health disparities and, by doing so, stimulating change in the approaches used throughout the health care arena with regards to differences that characterize health outcomes and health care.” The book was rated by Book Authority as one of the 21 best health care administration books of all time.

In his professions, Dr. Liu serves on the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. ASPPH is a network of schools and programs of public health, including DMU, that are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. Its Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee advises on activities to enhance the benefits of diversity and inclusion and seeks to cultivate inclusion with a commitment to advancing diversity and inclusiveness in curricula, policies and practices.

In addition, on July 1 Dr. Liu will begin serving on the board of directors of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA), a global network of colleges, universities, faculty, individuals and organizations dedicated to the improvement of health and health care delivery through excellence in health care management and policy education.

In May, he became one of 10 new fellows of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) in its social research, policy and practice section. GSA is the nation’s oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education and practice in the field of aging. The status of fellow – the “highest class” of membership in the society – is an acknowledgment of outstanding and continuing work in gerontology, including in research, teaching, administration, public service and practice. Many of Dr. Liu’s published works examine issues of aging. In this area, too, he blends in his expertise in diversity.

“As a professor studying long-term care administration, I have come to realize that even students in a field as specialized as gerontology must have lessons on ‘isms’ integrated into their subject matter. However, much of what we teach today in gerontology has become quite standardized,” he stated in an article he wrote for the April 2021 issue of the AGHExchange, a newsletter of the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education. Students often become uncomfortable, however, when discussions about these adverse beliefs and behaviors toward those who are “different” arise.

“The question becomes, ‘How do we teach issues regarding racism, sexism, sexualism, heterosexism, and other isms to our gerontology students in a way that generates genuine intellectual interest rather than emotional withdrawal?” he queried in the article. Strategies for doing so, he continued, include using neutral language, understanding the origins of isms and emphasizing “outcome maximization.”

“The ultimate goal of addressing isms is to lessen human incivilities and maximize the outcomes that will eventually benefit the whole of society,” he explained. He will present a topic on curriculum design for teaching about race and racism at a symposium during the Gerontological Society of America’s 73rd Annual Scientific Meeting in November 2021.

Amid his many roles, responsibilities and activities – it’s no surprise he represents the College of Health Sciences on the University’s interprofessional education team – Dr. Liu enjoys mentoring students in the public health and osteopathic medicine (D.O.) programs in their research projects, often on topics relating to health disparities and social determinants of health. Many D.O. students connect with him through DMU’s Mentored Student Research Program, the research elective course and clinical program research.

“Since joining DMU in 2016, I am glad to see many changes made over the years to support faculty in teaching and research,” he says. “That’s something motivating me to devote my time to mentoring students on projects between my busy schedule, because it is important that future health professionals to be prepared while they are still in school and able to provide solutions to issues relating to diversity and health disparities in the future.”

Dr. Liu describes his vision for public health education at the University: “I wish to propel the public health and health care administration programs to the next level by keeping up with market standards from professional associations, such as AUPHA and ASPPH, and to help our programs go beyond quality and innovative teaching. Our ultimate goals should be to become a benchmark for online education. We, as a faculty, must continuously devote ourselves to quality teaching as well as research, which has been highlighted in the DMU Vision 2021 statement.”

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