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Inclusion in Medical Education

In the medical community, it’s no secret that there are tremendous gaps in our health care system. Physicians can look at a person’s address and consider it an important factor in the state of their health and life expectancy. That’s because where you live has a profound impact on how you live. Recent data from U.S. News & World Report show that communities with higher populations of African-Americans and Latinos are hit particularly hard by health inequities.

It’s evident in the data – heart disease and diabetes are two of the top 10 causes of death among African-Americans and Hispanics.

These facts and figures represent real lives – individuals who are being impacted unfairly by circumstances playing out all around them in their neighborhoods. We call these social determinants of health (SDOH), like how easy it is to access healthy foods, how good neighborhood schools are and other factors.

We also must blame it on the serious lack of diversity among medical professionals, and there are consistent and persistent shortfalls in diversity throughout the biomedical career pipeline. Patients from diverse communities are more trusting of doctors from their own communities. This means we need more care providers from diverse backgrounds to help address the needs of vulnerable communities.

At the Aetna Foundation, we believe we have the power to help reduce disparities in health care by increasing diversity among health care providers.

We recently provided support to the team at Harvard Medical School (HMS) to establish the HMS Diversity Fund. The HMS team will offer programs for K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education reinforcement, provide support for minority students and fellows, as well as create leadership and faculty development opportunities. In addition, HMS’s diversity research program, Converge, is expanding efforts to increase workforce diversity and inclusion in the biomedical, behavior science and in high-demand STEM jobs.

Working closely with HMS over the next two years on this project, we hope that our support will help provide consistency to their diversity and inclusion efforts and better inform their diversity programs. More importantly, we want these efforts to serve as a model for other educational institutions – and beyond – to follow to expand their own diversity and inclusion programs.

We all have a role to play to make quality care more equitable and provide opportunities for members of underserved communities to achieve careers  in the medical field. For too long, members of underserved communities have been underrepresented in biomedical professions. It’s our goal to create an effective case study and path forward for overcoming this challenge – leveraging the brightest minds in medicine, education, business and the nonprofit sector to make it happen.

— Submitted by By Dr. Garth Graham, president of Aetna Foundation and vice president of Community Health, Aetna Inc.