Degree Name

DrPH (Doctor of Public Health)


Public Health

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Katie Baker

Committee Members

Kate Beatty, Nathan Hale


Rural counties in the United States vary drastically on metrics related to socioeconomic status and dominant economic industry as well as health behaviors and outcomes. This study sought to understand the underlying structural reasons why some rural counties have better or worse than expected health outcomes using a positive deviance (PD) approach. The study aimed to: 1) create an area deprivation index and divide counties into quartiles using the index; 2) identify positive, negative, and non-deviant counties using health outcome metrics; 3) analyze differences between deviance on a variety of local public health system metrics; and 4) analyze differences between deviance on a variety of health service system metrics. All data were secondary, with data on public health systems derived from NACCHO’s 2016 National Profile of Local Health Departments (LHDs) and data on healthcare systems derived from HRSA’s 2016-2017 Area Health Resource File. Multivariate analysis, nonparametric analysis, and multinomial logistic regression were conducted. Results indicated that public health systems in positive deviant counties were more likely to have their next year’s budget exceed their current budget compared to negative and non-deviant counties. Public health systems in negative deviant counties had much lower rates of completed community health assessments, community health improvement plans, and strategic plans. LHDs overseen by their local government were 6.20 (p=.001) times more likely to be positive deviant, and negative deviant counties were much less likely (OR=0.12, pp 17.28 physicians per 10,000 population), while negative deviant counties were less likely (OR=.35, pp=.38) compared to non-deviant counties. Future research should continue using the PD approach for population-level studies and seek to understand which components of local public health and healthcare systems are associated with better population health.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.