Awareness: The 1st Step to Addressing Health Care Disparities

“We know that much of what affects our health happens outside the doctor’s office,” said Dr. Anthony Iton, senior vice president of healthy communities at the California Endowment, in an address to the American Medical Association’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education consortium in 2016. “The things that we make difficult for people in life — getting health insurance, getting access to primary care — these are stressors that are unnecessary that actually change our physiology.” As a future health care professional, you need to be aware of these health-affecting factors.

Dr. Iton studied data from death certificates that detail how someone died, their age, their race or ethnicity and where they lived. He and his colleagues found that “there are places where you pay a price in loss of life because of your address.” Life expectancy could vary by 15 to 20 years from one neighborhood to another. “When you’re seeing health disparities, you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

What You Can Do To Address Health Care Disparities

As a health professions student, it’s important to be aware of the complex issues that shape the health care field in the United States. One of the most critical is the inequity in the quality and availability of health care for ethnic, racial and economic minorities.

What can you do to help address this inequity? For one, you could consider joining the National Health Service Corp, which has supported over 45,000 providers with scholarships and loan repayments in exchange for their commitment to service in an area that is short on health care providers. By committing some of your time to serving, you will not only gain incredible knowledge, experience, and resourcefulness, but you’ll also develop the compassion and understanding that will help your future patients.

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