Reflecting on Race and Health Outcomes: Through the Eyes of a Pre-Health Professional Student

Reflecting on Race and Health Outcomes: Through the Eyes of a Pre-Health Professional Student

Savannah J. Salato (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, USA) and Barbara Fifield Brandt (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5969-0.ch015
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A recently graduated pre-health student reflects on the valuable lessons learned about race and health outcomes in social science and humanities courses throughout her undergraduate interdisciplinary program. Coinciding with her unique college experience were the turbulent events of 2020, with a global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd bringing to light racial inequities in the student author's own backyard of Minneapolis. These events illustrated the need for empathetic and humanistic health professionals who are aware of and can address race and health inequities. Based upon research from her honors thesis, this chapter will use the example of maternal health disparities to demonstrate the complex history of racism in healthcare and the impact of system levels on health. The authors make the case for using liberal arts courses to prepare students to become health professionals who have interpersonal and intrapersonal awareness necessary to address racism and health inequities.
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Undergraduate pre-health students are often required to take liberal arts courses in order to graduate with a baccalaureate degree and meet admissions requirements for health professions schools. These courses present an opportunity to learn about the relationship between the social sciences and humanities and examine the growing body of health disparities research which sheds light on historical context, the social determinants of health, upstream factors beyond clinical care, and systems level impacts of racism and gender bias. Given that clinical care determines a small percentage of health status, health professionals and those-in-training would benefit from expanding their awareness beyond biology of disease and health care (Barton, Brandt, Dieter, Williams, 2020). Undergraduate liberal arts, social science, and humanities courses can provide excellent opportunities for pre-health students to learn about and reflect on important issues for their future health professions careers. By understanding factors determining health and outcomes, pre-health advisors and undergraduate faculty can play an important role in facilitating learning necessary for health professionals practicing in the rapidly changing health system that is proactively addressing health inequities of race and gender (University of Minnesota, 2021).

The chapter co-authors, a pre-health graduate and supervising honors thesis mentor, write about what they learned together in the University of Minnesota’s Biology, Society, and Environment degree program. Due to exposure to social justice initiatives during high school, the pre-health graduate selected the focus of race as a thread in her biology, social science, and humanities courses. Coinciding with her undergraduate education were the events of 2020--a global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd—which illuminated racial inequities in her own community. The juxtaposition of these issues, simultaneously with study, created an opportunity for critical thinking about the meaning of research, theory, and realities.

This chapter takes readers through the thread of liberal arts, social sciences, and humanities by focusing on the issue of maternal health disparities and its history of racism in the United States. This case study illustrates a sociohistorical understanding of racism in healthcare while also introducing the concept of implicit bias interventions. The chapter discusses how implicit bias can manifest in health professionals and provides recommendations for pre-health advisors and faculty to assist students with the selection of courses and activities to prepare them for careers that will require understanding and competency around race and the impact of social determinants of health (SDOH). A prototype of a learning guide to facilitate awareness and reflection is also included (see Appendix A)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Equality: Treatment of everyone the same, regardless of their status or identity in society.

Racism: Conscious or unconscious prejudice or discrimination that is targeted towards individuals or group based on their membership in a certain racial group.

Social Determinants of Health: Social factors, such as socioeconomic status, education, transportation, environment, and technology, that influence health outcomes.

Antiracism: Actively addressing practices and ideologies resulting from prejudice, discrimination and/or ideologies based upon race while promoting equity.

Stereotype: A generalized, oversimplified notion about a group of people that is widely believed by society.

Equity: Treatment of individual people or groups by providing support and/or resources needed to succeed, which may look different for each individual or group.

Critical Consciousness: Thinking and reflection.

Health Disparity: An observed and/or evidence-based difference in health outcomes between members of different social or racial groups.

Implicit Bias: Unconscious, generalized beliefs about an individual or a group of people.

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