The covid-19 pandemic has not only disrupted lives, health systems, and economies, but has also brought many of the pre-existing inequalities into sharp focus. The disproportionate impact of covid-19 on those that are socially secluded e.g. the homeless, those with poorer socio-economic status, as well as ethnic minority groups has led many to call for greater health and social reform. [1,2,3]
These spotlight inequalities may have particular meaning for medical students as key representatives of the future healthcare workforce. As well as becoming doctors we are increasingly being given a platform from which to create change through leadership. A push to recruit medical students from diverse backgrounds in recent decades has also seen the demographic of doctors change considerably. This has meant a better understanding and representation of wider society and an ability to cater for different patients in different capacities.
Leveraging these positive changes and reflecting on them may prove to be powerful at a time where the pandemic has highlighted the inequitable health outcomes that impact our society. As future doctors from diverse backgrounds we are in a unique position to go beyond the operating theatre and clinic to create change in different communities in order to improve access to healthcare, reduce mistrust of health services and promote healthier lifestyles in the context of different social environments. Being able to relate to the lives of our patients is a strength that must be utilised when making decisions about research, policy and clinical commissioning. Simple tools such as language have exemplified the ways in which many doctors and medical students have positively engaged with their respective community by using the power of social media to send out covid-related public health messages translated into their own languages. These grass roots efforts must continue beyond the pandemic and are essential to engaging isolated communities in the effort to promote equality in health outcomes.
However, in order to support true widespread equality in health and the establishment of more sustainable healthcare services, we must go a step beyond recruitment changes and ingrain values of equality into medical education. Future doctors must be aware of the social and disease challenges different communities face and be prepared to tailor care accordingly. With this spirit, some medical schools have begun to make changes to their curriculum in order to promote better ethnic representation in teaching resources, such as in dermatology.
If the doctors of tomorrow are to meet the biopsychosocial needs of diverse populations they need to be educated on the different presentations of pathologies, the socio-cultural aspects of different patients and the ways in which their own identity influences the delivery of clinical care. Holistic medical education that addresses these educational needs is a cornerstone to producing open-minded doctors with a skillset that is able to treat a multitude of patients.
Hanad Ahmed, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton
Competing interests: None declared
- Dorn VA, Cooney ER, Sabin LM. COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in the US. World Report, Lancet. 2020.Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(20)30893-X.pdf
- Bambra C, Riordan R, Ford J, Matthews F. The COVID-19 pandemic and health inequalities. J. Epidemiol. Community Health. 2020 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7298201/
- Public Health England. Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19. 2020. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/892085/disparities_review.pdf