The issue of health equity is top of mind across all communities. This is especially true as those in the U.S. negotiate adjustments instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic and other significant impacts on both public and private health initiatives.
Public health officials must confront a variety of factors to ensure health equity and grant all citizens the same right to quality of life and access to treatment. An advanced degree in public health can equip you with the necessary capabilities to tackle the health equity challenges of the modern world.
What Is Health Equity?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health equity occurs when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential,” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”
Health inequities affect many elements of patient well-being, including length and quality of life; likelihood of disease, disability and death; severity of disease; and treatment access. Nursing’s primary goal is to achieve health equity by removing health disparities for all.
Pressing Issues Within the Public Health Space
Regarding the public health space, an article listed in Annual Reviews notes that a comprehensive, societal effort to create widespread, healthy environments for all people is necessary to address contemporary health issues such as violence prevention, the HIV epidemic and the high volume of preventable chronic diseases.
It has become increasingly apparent that changes are necessary within the healthcare system in order to better serve communities around the United States. The Annual Reviews article notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) links health equity and social justice at the global level, stating that “the enjoyment of the most attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, and political belief, economic or social condition.”
To ensure a more equitable healthcare system, healthcare professionals and leaders must implement an inclusive and holistic framework. The article also notes the importance of the Healthy People 2030, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ national health objectives initiative. Its directives specific to health equity and well-being for all include:
- Remove health disparities and foster equitable health initiatives and health literacy
- Build social, physical and economic environments that foster holistic health
- Involve leadership, constituents and individuals across industries to take action and design policies that improve public health
What Is Being Done to Resolve Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities?
One strategy for improving health equity is to address the societal factors that influence health. The American Hospital Association (AHA) developed a new resource called Societal Factors that Influence Health: A Framework for Hospitals to support hospitals and health systems as they take action to improve health equity. This framework involves three levels:
- Social needs. This includes non-medical social or economic factors that hinder individuals’ ability to stay healthy and recover from illness. Healthcare facilities can screen patients for various conditions and connect them with additional community-based or hospital resources. Screening for social needs should involve information on a patient’s race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation and gender identity data to help hospitals identify and address existing health disparities in their communities.
- Social determinants of health (SDH). These are the “underlying social and economic conditions in the community that influence people’s ability to be healthy.” Healthcare professionals must develop relationships with community and external stakeholders to address public social determinants of health.
- Systemic causes. A handful of baseline factors contribute to social inequities and lead to poor public health. For example, racism, sexism, generational poverty or redlining by financial institutions are a few. Therefore, healthcare facilities should work with other community stakeholders to impact policy, systems and culture changes locally and nationally.
Health Equity at EWU
Individuals who want to make a difference in the state of health equity across the nation have a clear pathway. Those who enroll in the Master of Public Health (MPH) online program at Eastern Washington University will impact health equity in a meaningful way by educating patients, slowing the spread of disease and increasing patient life expectancy.
This 14-month online program allows nurses to examine the sociological perspective of healthcare inequities and develop the means to improve them. They’ll build the foundation to effectively implement community programs to meet the needs of specific populations. Students will gain the tools and expertise to be true agents of change.
Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Public Health program.