The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact in the United States has exposed long-standing inequities by race, ethnicity, and income. A Commonwealth Fund analysis from April showed that confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths were disproportionately higher in communities with larger Black populations. Contributing to these poorer outcomes is the far greater likelihood Black and Latino Americans live in poverty and reside in neighborhoods with overcrowded households, air pollution, and inadequate access to health care.
Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and Health Disparities
- Social determinants of health include aspects of the social environment (e.g., discrimination, income, education level, marital status), the physical environment (e.g., place of residence, crowding conditions), built environment (i.e., buildings, spaces, transportation systems, and products that are created or modified).
- Health disparities refers to a higher burden of illness, injury, disability, or mortality experienced by one group relative to another. A “health care disparity” typically refers to differences between groups in health insurance coverage, access to and use of care, and quality of care.
One reason the U.S. ranks so poorly globally is that health outcomes for certain racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups fare so poorly domestically. Black-Americans, Latinos and the economically disadvantaged experience poorer health care access and lower quality of care than white Americans. And in most measures, that gap is growing.
An Innovative Medical Educational Program to Address Health Disparities
Recent studies have shown that despite the improvements in the overall health of the country, racial and ethnic minorities experience a lower quality of health care—they are less likely to receive routine medical care and face higher rates of morbidity and mortality than whites. The American Medical Association (AMA) encourages physicians to examine their own practices to ensure equality in medical care.
Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is a public university in Fort Myers, Florida. It is part of the State University System of Florida and is its second youngest member. The FGCU Physician Assistant Studies (M.P.A.S.) Program prepares students to enter the profession assured that they’ll have the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate and treat patients and to work with physicians and other healthcare team members.
Last week, as a Florida resident, I watched this TV news story “Students Work To Address Inequalities In The Medical Field.” The news feature showed Robert Hawkes MPAS Program Director and some motivated students, Sabreen Yousef and Agnes Fuerst as they described an experiential learning program designed for students to develop knowledge, skills, and behaviors to address racial, ethnic, and disability health disparities. These newly developed competencies empower students to address other disparities such as gender and LGBTQ+ health disparities. The students point to advocacy, empathy, mindfulness, and disrupting bias as key actions health providing organizations and professionals should take consistently.