Weill Cornell instills social justice and health equity in medical education

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When she was 5 years old, Reine Ibala and her family moved to the United States as refugees amid civil war in their native Republic of Congo. Later, her father developed hypertension and faced challenges as he navigated the American healthcare system. His doctor was dismissive, Ibala recalls, and did not address the real, personal and cultural reasons behind his father’s apprehensions about his treatment plan. With a fractious patient-doctor relationship and a lack of shared decision-making on the best treatment plan, he ultimately died of a dissected aorta.

“Being a good doctor isn’t just about providing scientifically and clinically excellent medicine,” said Ibala, 27, currently a third-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine. “It’s about being able to meet patients where they are, understanding where they’re coming from and knowing when to follow their example.”


Queen Ibala

That experience, along with her upbringing as a black woman and an immigrant to the United States, was formative for her, she said. This ingrained in her the importance of social justice and health equity – values ​​that would underpin her future medical career. The 2020 murder of George Floyd and the resulting national reckoning on race, as well as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, further galvanized her, prompting her to participate in a newly created at Weill Cornell Medicine dedicated to advancing these principles through the lens of medical education.

Convened in the summer of 2020 by Dr. Yoon Kang, Senior Associate Dean for Education, the Anti-Racism Curriculum Committee was tasked with reinvigorating the curriculum at Weill Cornell Medical College to ensure medical students acquire a solid understanding of how social, economic and political factors influence health. results. These social determinants of health, which co-chair Dr. Joy Howell calls “social barriers to health,” have been recognized by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as more important than genetics. or ancestry, health behaviors, and even access to care and the quality of that care.

“We need to impress upon the next generation of healthcare workers the power that societal factors have on population health, as well as an individual’s health, so that they can become well-rounded and well-rounded physicians” , said Howell, who is also assistant dean for diversity and student life at Weill Cornell Medicine. “If you’ve just come up with a drug to treat high blood pressure and you don’t care about the context in which that patient lives, I doubt your ability to effectively control that patient’s blood pressure.”

Comprised of Weill Cornell Medicine administrators, faculty, students, and staff, the Anti-Racism Program Committee met throughout 2020-21 and quickly identified the need to integrate social justice and health equity in a new core medical college learning objective.

The goal, said committee co-chair Dr. Joseph Safdieh, was to develop a framework in which the social determinants of health, including racism, are taught longitudinally, across the four years of faculty. of medicine, rather than in a single course.

“If we segment it into an individual course, then the concepts exist on their own,” said Safdieh, who is also Gertrude Feil Associate Dean for Curriculum Affairs, Louis and Rachel Rudin Foundation Education Fellow and Professor of neurology in Weill. Cornell Medicine. “Students learn it and then move on. We want to show them that understanding the social determinants of health is relevant in heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, brain disease, in all the different organ systems. This is not a problem unique to medicine, surgery, neurology, or OBGYN. It’s a pervasive societal issue that impacts every patient’s experience.

Read the full story on the Weill Cornell Medicine Newsroom.


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