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Eliminating Disparities in St. Louis

Published on 30 January 2019

St. Louis College of Pharmacy is committed to educating students on the responsibilities that accompany becoming a health care professional. Every student is challenged to understand the complex world that awaits them after graduation including the health disparities that exist within their own backyard.

Health disparities are preventable differences in health experienced by marginalized populations. These types of disparities result from unequal access to health care, affordability, and environmental factors such as limited access to healthy food or lack of education. Research conducted by Washington University in St. Louis and FOCUS St. Louis (2014) shows there is an 18-year difference in life expectancy for St. Louis City residents living in zip codes separated by less than 10 miles from one another. The comparative cities are located less than seven miles from the College further showcasing the demand for culturally competent health care professionals.

“As future health care professionals, our students are well-positioned to help address health disparities in the St. Louis area,” said Danielle Giffort, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology. “By taking into consideration the social, behavioral and environmental conditions that contribute to health disparities, our students have the opportunity to develop effective interventions in their community.”

African-Americans in St. Louis are more likely to have a lower life expectancy when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Racial gaps, like these, are one of the many driving forces behind the College’s commitment to educating students on the importance of social awareness and cultural sensitivity.

Through the College’s cocurricular requirements, students participate in programming that allows them to engage in self-reflection, learn how social determinants of health impact disparities and how to communicate with patients from different backgrounds.

“As health care providers, we are dedicated to providing patient-centered care that is respectful of the patient,” said Isaac Butler, vice president of diversity and inclusion and assistant professor of pharmacy. “Our end goal as health care leaders is to influence patient behavior. In order to influence behavior, it’s critical to understand our patients’ culture in order to be effective health care providers.”

The College fosters an environment that allows students to explore cultural competence and their own biases and prepares them to help mitigate disparities after graduation. In addition to cocurricular activities, professors are incorporating inequity topics into their courses.

“As a sociologist, I’m most interested in teaching students about the social factors that impact health disparities,” Giffort said. “Social factors such as lifestyle, education and living conditions can shape patients’ risk of susceptibility to illnesses, as well as their access to health care and quality of treatment.”

Giffort is part of a team at University of Illinois College of Medicine that developed a transgender standardized patient case to increase medical students’ communication skills with transgender patients. In the future, Giffort hopes to bring a similar program to the College.

In August, the College’s Multicultural Center opened to enhance education and increase cultural engagement and development on campus. The center is a welcoming space that hosts social programming geared toward helping students understand disparity gaps across all marginalized groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community, women, people of color and those with physical and mental disabilities.

“I tell students, it is never my intention to change your mind,” said Alechia Abioye, assistant director of diversity and inclusion. “My goal is to open your mind and allow you to realize that learning about others’ backgrounds, views and experiences is an important part of being a well-rounded person and health care professional.”

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