Apr 26 2014
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How to Address Disparities? Educate, Engage Young Professionals in This Work.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Jamar Slocum, BS, a third year medical student at Meharry Medical College, responds to the question, “What does the country need to do to address disparities and build a culture of health that includes all people?” Slocum is a participant in Meharry’s RWJF Scholars’ program.

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In virtually every public health venture, health departments are confronted with the consequences of social poverty, institutional racism, and other forms of universal injustice. It is my belief that in order to make any significant change to a society, it is essential to have leaders who are in the forefront of the upcoming generation. Young professionals will ultimately bear the responsibility for implementing the policies and programs necessary for sustainable development. Budding physicians and researchers are exposed to an extensive array of sustainable development perspectives at a formative age in their professional development. This strengthens their own knowledge base and advances their capability to comment substantively on health disparity issues and to become effective agents of change.

Health care decision makers are often apprehensive about incorporating maturing physicians into governing processes and they are making few opportunities available for recently established professionals to influence national policies and reduce health disparities. Novel approaches must be found to engage young professionals in unraveling the expanding disproportionate puzzle of health disparities.

Early education and awareness of our country’s health disparities builds a diverse culture, capable of successfully reducing modifiable disparities. Through involvement in research and advocacy organizations, young professionals fine-tune their ability to collaborate with others, predominantly those from diverse cultural backgrounds and sectors, and to work proficiently as a society.

In order to develop a culture that maximizes quality, affordable, evidence-based health care services, it is imperative that we engage young professionals by developing their knowledge of these issues. Despite excellent medical training, young professionals are often undereducated on health disparities, leaving them ill-prepared to tackle the changes that arise from health care reform. This May, graduating professionals will be the first to enter the era of the fully-implemented Affordable Care Act. Organizations, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are instrumental in fostering the development of a new generation of creative thinkers trained to address disparities from political and economic angles. Nevertheless we must endeavor to elevate cultural concerns to the same standards during this critical period.

See all the blog posts in this series.

Tags: American Indian (incl. Alaska Native), Asian/Pacific Islander, Black (incl. African American), Disparities, Human Capital, Latino or Hispanic, Medical schools, National Minority Health Month, Other racial or ethnic groups, Social determinants of health, Voices from the Field