How to Address Disparities? Interprofessional Teams, A Collaborative Approach to Training.

Apr 25, 2014, 9:13 AM

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, Kate Driscoll Malliarakis, PhD, ANP-BC, MAC, an assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing, responds to the question, “What does the country need to do to address disparities and build a culture of health that includes all people?” She is an alumna of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program.


The quick answer is to admonish legislators in state and federal governments for failing to gain consensus on what care they will provide and then for actually failing to provide the care. 

Government bureaucracy is certainly a barrier to attending to the health needs of the people in the United States, but government is only one of the issues we face. Often, our society fails to step up and acknowledge inherent prejudice. We surround ourselves with “our kind” and observe others from a distance. We develop a kind of detachment from those who are not like us, and we fail to acknowledge the richness of cultural diversity. The volatile world economy in the past few years has proved that many of us are but a few paychecks away from personal ruin; in other words, we too can easily become a disparity statistic.

The more difficult answer is to focus on the long-term changes and build systems that attend to the needs of all peoples. That can be an overwhelming task and certainly does not address the immediacy of the problem. I believe in the old adage that ‘All politics are local.’ I think the answer lies in what we are doing in our own communities. Are we taking action? Have we developed relationships within our own culturally diverse communities? 

From the perspective of health care providers, an answer to the issue of disparities is to develop interprofessional collaborative relationships. In our communities, attending to the social determinants of health demands cooperative and overlapping efforts. It is a group effort that will bring results for our patients. While many in the health professions have formed teams in their workplaces, the teams are often uni-professional. The time is now to form interprofessional teams that address the social determinants of health. The new challenge for our educational systems is to provide training that embraces a collaborative approach.

The answer to building a culture of health for all people is not singular. Rather, it involves managing the needs of patients within the diversity of the health care team. 

See all the blog posts in this series.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.