Debra Furr-Holden, PhD

Debra  Furr-Holden, PhD
  • Associate Dean for Public Health Integration
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine


Debra Furr-Holden, PhD, is an epidemiologist and classically-trained public health professional with expertise in health disparities and health equity, drug and alcohol dependence epidemiology, psychiatric epidemiology, and prevention science.

Furr-Holden works with local and national policymakers to improve data-driven decision-making across a broad range of health topics to mandate equity in all policies.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Furr-Holden’s expertise led to government task force appointments to address public health needs during the crisis. She serves on the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, the Greater Flint Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Inequity, and the New York City African American COVID-19 Task Force.

In Michigan and Flint, the racial disparity in COVID-19 cases and deaths among the African American population has been eliminated.

She is also the founding co-Chair of the Flint Community Task Force on Public Safety, a community resource and advisory body to the Mayor of Flint focused on advocating for and amplifying the voices and concerns of the community, connecting community members to resources, and redefining the relationship between the community and the public safety sector.

She works with Dr. Reverend Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition as co-chair of the health committee, Ruth Mott Foundation Board of Trustees, editorial board for the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, and is the Deputy Editor of the journal Health Equity.

She is the director and producer of the podcast, At The Forefront with Dr. Deb. She has been an outspoken advocate for health equity with numerous national media interviews with the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Politico, MSNBC, and The Conversation.

Funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD; #U54MD011227), she directs the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions to bring together policy-makers, community leaders, and researchers to serve the health of the Flint community better. Meet her research team, the Health Equity Research Workgroup.

She also serves as the MSU founding Co-Director of the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center.

Furr-Holden’s commitment to Flint began early in adolescence. After earning her PhD from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, she returned to the city she loves in January 2016. She immediately began working on behavioral health equity and policy-level interventions with grassroots community partners, academic partners, and other stakeholders.

Her action-oriented research is embedded with the principles and practices of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). She leads health equity change in collaboration with community, not “for” community. She fundamentally believes there is a seat for everyone at the table. A working list of core community partners can be found here.

She is the developer of a novel observational environmental assessment tool, the Neighborhood Inventory for Environsmental Typology (NIfETy). The NIfETy is a unique systematic social observation developed to measure features of the built and social environment linked to violence, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (VAOD) exposure. Her NIfETy-based research has been used to promote environmental interventions to prevent and reduce VAOD exposure. This work is highly collaborative and has fueled a range of partnerships with researchers and policymakers across the country.