SMHS debuts five-month-long series on health care equity

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Maranda Ward, an assistant professor of clinical research and leadership, is leading a lecture series over the next five months to highlight health equity issues.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences hosted its first session earlier this month in a five-month-long series highlighting issues related to health equity.

Series attendees will learn about topics like defining health equity, addressing racism in the classroom and mitigating the root of health disparities in teaching and research. Health care experts said the series will prompt educators to integrate more information about health equity into classroom curricula and teach health care professionals how to address implicit biases in health care practices.

Maranda Ward, an assistant professor of clinical research and leadership who created the series, said the health sciences division will host an event on the second Thursday of each month from September through January.

“GW Health Sciences’ core purpose is to drive innovation and quality through education, scholarship and service,” Ward said in an email. “Given that this series is aligned to that mission from our strategic plan and a focus to develop competencies for all learners in healthcare quality and health equity, it will likely become an annual series.”

She said the first four meetings in the series are hour-long, in-person lectures that are live-streamed and recorded. Each session revolves around a certain theme, like “Framing Health Equity,” “Health Disparities Within and Across Important U.S. Populations,” “How to Address Root Causes of Health Disparities in Teaching and Research” and “How to Talk About Race, Power and Privilege,” Ward said.

The fifth meeting is an “interactive” half-day symposium during which participants will attend a roundtable discussion and a panel. Phillip Alberti, the senior director of health equity research and policy at the Association of American Medical Colleges, will moderate the panel, which will include a community resident, health equity funder, policy expert and a hospital administrator.

“The half-day symposium is chock full of skill-building and resource-sharing roundtables before moving into a panel discussion on establishing equitable and sustainable academic-community partnerships,” Ward said.

She said anyone can attend the free events, and each event can count toward students’ continuing medical education credits. Ward added that she worked with a committee of public health professionals to select topics and event speakers.

Ward said she designed the series as part of the health sciences departments’ efforts to implement health equity into undergraduate health sciences program curricula.

White Coats for Black Lives – a student-run organization that aims to eliminate racial bias in medical education and practice – published a report card earlier this month giving the school a grade of B- on 14 metrics related to racial diversity, equity and inclusion.

She added that the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership sponsored the series and the Institute of Public Health Innovation endorsed the series and serves as an official partner with the school.

Ward said lecturers will teach educators how to accurately define terms used when discussing health equity, understand which populations are the most affected by health disparities, recognize factors that lead to health disparities and facilitate conversations about racism in the classroom.

“This series is designed to offer clinicians or health care providers continuing medical education credits to improve their research and clinical practice,” Ward said.

Health care experts said participation in the series will encourage health educators to integrate more information on health equity into classroom curricula and show providers how to deliver better health care to a wider range of patients.

Susan Shaw, an associate professor of community health education and director of the Center for Community Health Equity Research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said health care practitioners often receive health equity education after beginning their professional career but that students should learn about health equity at school.

“Oftentimes, health equity and social determinants of health are added at the continuing medical education stage, because all too often they’re not part of the standard curriculum of medical schools,” she said.

Shaw said health care education generally teaches students “concrete” medical skills about biological health with little discussion of how social factors influence patients’ health.

“The more that people inside medicine can have a greater understanding of the ways in which social determinants of health affect public status and health outcomes, as well as the health care system itself, it’s better all around, especially for people from marginalized groups,” Shaw said.

Susan Passmore, a senior scientist and the assistant director for community engaged research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said teaching health care educators about health equity issues will help students understand and address disparities in disease mortality and morbidity rates among different communities. 

In 2010, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white Americans to die of heart disease, according to data from the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and suffer from diabetes-related complications – like end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations – than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, according to data from the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“At the most basic level, health care educators and providers should be aware of the nature of health disparities as they shape the outcomes of their patients,” Passmore said in an email. “Educators and providers must be aware of the role they play in the creation of health disparities or health equity.”

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