Community-Based Teaching about Health Disparities

Combining Education, Scholarship and Community Service

The Institute of Medicine recommends that clinicians receive training to better understand and address disparities in health status. Study of health disparities has traditionally focused on how to ameliorate disparities within the health care setting. More recently, there has been a shift to a public health approach focusing on determinants such as familial, cultural, community, social, economic, environmental, and policy factors. This manuscript aims to guide medical educators in teaching students and residents about health disparities through community-based activities, including service learning and research. The community is an ideal setting for health disparities education in four primary domains:

  1. Identifying and addressing a community’s health problems.
  2. Understanding and attending to socio-cultural aspects of patient care.
  3. Coordinating local community health resources in the care of patients.
  4. Assimilating into the community and participating in its organizations.

Teaching about health disparities in the community setting offers potential benefits to learners, medical institutions and the community. Potential challenges include overcoming the stereotypes and biases of both learners and community members. The goal of community-based disparities education is to produce a generation of socially responsible physicians who are civically engaged and better equipped to understand and address the inequalities that contribute to poorer health outcomes among vulnerable populations.