ChangeMedEd Initiative

Med school curriculum changes aim to eliminate health care disparities


How should physicians of the future eliminate health care disparities and deliver the best patient care? Some schools are beginning to address this weighty question by focusing on the unique needs of underserved populations, workforce diversity and population health.

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Three of the 11 schools that received grants through the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative are building innovative education models that specifically address the unique needs of underserved populations.

Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School uses a unique focus, integrating population health into the curriculum of its newly developed Primary Care/Population Health Program. Completion in the program will give medical students a dual MD-MS degree and places importance on the delivery of balanced, innovative medical education that gives appropriate emphasis to both medical knowledge and understanding of population health. 

“We believe there is an entirely new set of population health/population medicine knowledge, attitude and skills required by medical students to be able to function in the health care system of tomorrow,” said Jeffrey Borkan, MD, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Brown. 

“Population health will also allow a careful consideration of the special needs of each physician’s, and each practice’s, patient panel—how to collect and utilize data and institute system changes that benefit all,” Dr. Borkan said.

At the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, new curricula will place emphasis on rural and underserved populations. The school will continue its mission of training underrepresented minorities, focusing on team-based care and population health. Longitudinal education in quality improvement and population health will be added to the program’s core curriculum. 

The University of California Davis School of Medicine is working to develop diverse, highly skilled physicians ready to meet the needs of underserved communities and populations. Collaborative strategies to address workforce gaps in the medical field are part of its model three-year education track, which places emphasis on addressing medically underserved populations, workforce diversity and workforce gaps.

Mark Henderson, MD, associate dean for admissions and outreach at UC-Davis, said the Accelerating Change in Medical Education project at that school is specifically choosing students from economically challenged backgrounds in the hopes that these students will work in underserved communities.

“Patients of color or patients from disadvantaged backgrounds feel more comfortable with physicians from their same background,” Dr. Henderson said. “And there’s evidence that physicians from underserved backgrounds are more likely to go work in underserved communities.”

The AMA Minority Affairs Section works to advance similar goals for improving the health of minority populations. The AMA’s Doctors Back to School program reflects the section’s commitment to increasing the number of underrepresented minority physicians and lays the groundwork for future medical students. Physicians and medical students visit schools in their communities, showing kids that more minority physicians are needed in the profession in order to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.