Students lead the way in their own learning about health equity
“So, what are you going to do about it?” was the question Dr. Joseph Ferenbok, Director, Translational Research Program (TRP), asked his students when they discussed anti-racism following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
Encouraged to think outside the box and find innovative solutions to problems, this was not an unusual question to be posed to TRP students. A two-year masters program aimed at developing researchers who want to translate through project-based work, students work together with faculty during their problem-solving development.
What started as a simple, yet loaded question in class, led to the development of the TRP Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) and the proposal of a new course module.
A group of students connected online and began the ARC committee, developing a mandate “To hold the TRP accountable to meaningful, concrete, and sustained anti-racism work, and to support members of the TRP community belonging to racialized or underrepresented minority groups.”
One of the first tasks of the committee was to conduct a survey with their peers on the TRP to find out what issues mattered to them.
“Students were interested in learning more about anti-racism, and health equity in general. They felt unprepared to work in healthcare without knowing how to navigate some of these issues”, explained first-year TRP student and ARC member, Gemma Kabeya.
HEALTH INEQUALITY: Disadvantaged social groups may be unable to reach their full health potential due to social disadvantages and discrimination embedded within health systems and various social institutions (Braveman, 2006).
Although health equity is covered in some classes, the students didn’t feel it was enough, with 87% of those surveyed wanting more in the curriculum, and that health equity would be important for their future careers.
Health inequities can have dramatic impacts on the outcomes of communities, for example in Montreal there is an 11-year difference in life expectancy between high and low income neighborhoods (source: Let’s Talk Health Equity - PDF).
“There were a lot of one-off events we could attend, but to really get the transformational change required, and for students to really benefit from it, we needed a long-term way of learning built into a program,” adds Tobi Lam, a member of ARC looking into the logistics of implementing a new module.
After identifying a need for more formal education on anti-racism, the students pulled together a draft syllabus, getting feedback from various Equity groups on campus including the Temerty Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity (OID), LMP’s WIDE Committee, and Graduate and Life Sciences Education (GLSE).
It was in the winter semester when things started to fall into place via TRP’s Student Work and Research Module; an opportunity for students to use the module development as a research project, earning course credit.
Gemma Kabeya led a group of students to start researching how to develop a curriculum and course plan.
The group conducted thorough research and surveyed students before drafting a full proposal and syllabus, based on needs identified by the students themselves. “We didn't want to just come to our program directors and say, “Hey, we have this great idea”. We wanted to do the work and show that we're dedicated to have this done and show the student interest in all of it,” explains Gemma.
The topics selected would cover:
- Socioeconomic status
- Indigenous populations
- The immigrant experience
- Gender and sexuality
The TRP Program Director was impressed by the initiative and gave his support, with faculty and staff offering curriculum advice and approving the course to be offered as a special module to test it before gaining full approval.
The big question now for the students is who teaches it? “It's been a big learning curve for us, as students, to figure out how to navigate the academic system and how hiring practices and union laws are involved. Just navigating the whole system of academia,” says Tobi. “It’s been challenging finding faculty members or potential sessional lecturers with expertise in health equity who can take on teaching this module”.
Once the teaching position is identified and filled, the module will be tested in the TRP with the ambition to be accessible to all interested students in the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology.
“We believe that everyone who is a healthcare professional should have a health equity lens and be equipped with the knowledge and understanding to work with, and help, anyone.” Says Gemma.
Contact the ARC team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in teaching this new module.
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