Students take initiative to tackle health disparities
Current taskforce members include (back row, from left) Cara Monroe, School of Medicine (SM); Maria Chuulu-Duroseau, SM; Ken Stewart, School of Public Health (SPH); Monique Nugent, SM; Tenisha Mitchell, SM; Theodora Stratis, School of Science and Technology; Mike Conner, EdS, associate dean of students, SPH, and taskforce advisor; Gwen Rohrer, SM; and Fayomi Agboola, MPH, of SPH; (front row, from left) Susanne Montgomery, PhD, MPH, associate dean for academic affairs, SPH, and taskforce advisor; Johan Byssainthe, MPH, of SPH; and Debra Barrath, School of Nursing.
A group of Loma Linda University students has seen a need and responded. Currently, a small group of students is organizing a multidisciplinary taskforce that strives to help eliminate health disparities—imbalances in health and health care access between population groups (i.e., age, geography, race, and ethnicity).
One example of a health disparity is that in 2001, age-adjusted cancer death rates were 25.4 percent higher for African-Americans than they were for White Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That same year, live-birth infant mortality rates for Black Americans were more than double those of Whites. Other health disparities exist for groups including Pacific islanders, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. It is to fight against such discrepancies that LLU students have mobilized.
The taskforce is planning a health disparities conference at Loma Linda University for January 29 through February 1, 2007. Its theme will be “Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care: from competence to excellence.”
The students’ goals for the conference are threefold: to raise awareness of health disparities, to inform people about current research and efforts against health disparities, and to encourage students to do research and practice that focuses on eliminating this health care problem.
Though the conference is the first major project of the taskforce, more efforts will follow. Taskforce leaders envision that one day, all LLU students and community partners will be engaged in eliminating health disparities.
“The conference is only one step in the work that needs to be done in order to accomplish our vision,” says Johan Byssainthe, MPH, one of two LLU School of Public Health students who initiated the taskforce.
“The taskforce has a few projects we plan to roll out in the future to promote the involvement of students and community partners in reducing disparities in health and health care,” Ms. Byssainthe continues.
The taskforce is still recruiting members. They hope to have representation from all of the University’s schools.
The faculty sponsors for the group are Susanne Montgomery, PhD, MPH, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Public Health, and Michael Conner, EdS, associate dean for student services, School of Public Health. Dr. Montgomery is also a co-investigator for LLU’s Center for Health Disparities Research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“I do a lot of health disparities research, so when they approached me I was delighted to work with them,” she says.
The students have exhibited independence in forming the taskforce, according to Dr. Montgomery. At the same time, they have worked with Loma Linda University administration, including Chancellor Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, to enlist support for open dialogue about health disparities.
“They feel passionate about addressing health disparities,” says Dr. Montgomery. “The students have been extremely organized and persistent.”
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By Heather Reifsnyder