McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University recently hosted the third annual Health Equity Week, a week-long series of educational programming exploring the roots of healthcare inequities and disparities, and solutions to address them.
This year’s Health Equity Week featured speakers from Northwestern and beyond and was attended by Northwestern faculty, staff, residents, fellows, students and community members.
“When we conceptualized Health Equity Week three years ago, we were deliberate in amplifying the scholarship and the experts in this space and really sharing this opportunity with others,” said Oluwateniola Brown, MD, ‘18 GME, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery and director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Graduate Medical Education at Feinberg.
Linda Suleiman, MD, ‘17 GME, assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Medical Education, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Feinberg and director of Diversity and Inclusion at McGaw, introduced this year’s Health Equity Week keynote speaker, Nicole Stern, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of Medical Education at the California University of Science and Medicine and an urgent care physician at the Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Stern, who is a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico and the first member of her tribe to become a physician, spoke about the importance of building the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) healthcare workforce and supporting prospective and current AI/AN medical students.
“I’m hoping you can walk away with something new, perhaps for those students and residents out there who are considering a very nontraditional pathway. You never have to be set in one specific specialty or one specific pathway,” Stern said.
Only 0.56 percent of active physicians and 0.48 percent of full-time medical school faculty in the U.S. are American Indian or Alaska Natives, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
In addition to ongoing national efforts, Stern suggested action items for academic institutions and healthcare organizations, including surveying current programs and initiatives and getting involved with outside organizations that directly support AI/AN healthcare professionals, students and communities.
“We know the disparity exists, so the real question is, ‘How do we change it?’” said Stern, who was also presented with the inaugural Clyde W. Yancy Lectureship award following her keynote address.
This year’s event included four daily educational sessions covering a range of topics, including the impact of residential segregation on health outcomes, using data to advance health equity and addressing obesity by eliminating barriers to comprehensive care.
The week-long event series also featured a virtual educational session about health equity tourism, which was presented by Elle Lett, PhD, MA, MBiostat, an associate fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and Monica McLemore, PhD, MPH, RN, a professor of Child, Family, and Population Health and interim director for the Center for Anti-Racism in Nursing at the University of Washington School of Nursing.
Lett, who coined the term “health equity tourism,” defined it for attendees as the following: “The practice of investigators – without prior experience or commitment to health equity research – parachuting into the field in response to timely and often temporary increases in public interest and resources, with the risk of polluting and diluting the scientific record and draining the capacity of health equity scholars to work toward health justice.”
“As health equity tourists become more common, we as people who are committed health equity scholars in the space are actually drained of our capacity to do the work we need to do,” Lett said.
In the spirit of healing, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recognizes and acknowledges that it sits on the land of multiple native nations – the Three Fires Confederacy, Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe Nations, as well as other tribal nations that know this area as their ancestral homeland, including the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Miami, Peoria, and Sac and Fox. These lands were the traditional birthright of indigenous peoples who were forcibly removed and who have faced two centuries of struggle for survival and identity in the wake of dispossession. This Land Acknowledgement is part of recognizing Feinberg’s responsibility to the peoples of the land, to addressing this history, and to guiding work in the present and the future.