News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Memoona Hasnain on Teaching Health Disparities

Memoona Hasnain, MD, MHPE, PhD of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine discusses her new interprofessional program to create learning experiences geared toward reducing health disparities.

What are you working on as a Macy Faculty Scholar and why is it important?
My project centers on developing learning experiences for health professions students that will help them better understand and address the health needs of underserved and marginalized populations.

The training program, called, “Interprofessional Approaches to Health Disparities,” will place interprofessional teams of medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy and social work students into community settings. Students learn a lot of things in the classroom, but the real solutions to key public health problems lie in community-based, hands-on learning environments. A true understanding of the health needs of our communities can only come from teaching and learning in settings where the most vulnerable patients are living.

What does this project look like, and how will you implement it?

The program will be offered as a 12-month elective for health professions students. Interprofessional teams will be developed and students will work closely with community-based partner organizations that serve vulnerable populations. Students will also engage in community-based participatory research and quality improvement projects. They will focus on one of five core topic areas: domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, geriatrics, homelessness and immigrant/refugee health.

The infrastructure is already in place at Chicago in the form of our Patient-centered Medicine (PCM) Scholars Program. There are already a number of medical students involved in this program, and we will integrate the other health professions students into this educational framework. It’s very important to note that we’re not just adding new learners to a pre-existing structure though. Instead, we have the opportunity to build and refine, to draw and paint a new picture.

What are you hoping to change with this project?
I am hoping to influence the attitudes, values and skills of students in understanding and respecting each others’ roles as well as the needs and dignity of their patients. I want students to have community-engaged and patient-centered experiences very early in their education, to enable them to be compassionate and humanistic care providers and at the same time be effective leaders and scholars. I’m also looking for faculty development outcomes. I want to provide teachers with better tools and skills to work with students.

What motivates you to take on this project?

My motivation stems from a core belief in addressing social justice issues as part of my personal and professional goals. Having gone through the journey of being a medical student, a practicing physician, and now a medical educator and public health scientist, I have seen the gaps between education and practice delivery, and between the needs of patients and how health professionals are educated. I think the most important place where we can influence change is in how we train students from the beginning, and not after the gaps have formed.
I have also traversed the immigrant journey and I have experienced the challenges in accessing health care for myself and my family. I understand that care for marginalized populations is important and yet is often overlooked – this has a ripple effect across the globe.

I think the biggest thing that keeps me motivated, however, is the realization of the value of education. My mom wasn’t allowed to go to school. Despite being a single mother after my dad’s passing, she made sure each one of her six children received formal education. I am who I am because my parents gave me the precious gift of education. By investing my career and energies in educational development, I believe I’m giving back and paying forward for that opportunity.

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