Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 23, Issue 7, pp 1028–1032

Innovative Health Care Disparities Curriculum for Incoming Medical Students

  • Monica B. Vela
  • Karen E. Kim
  • Hui Tang
  • Marshall H. Chin
Innovations in Education



1) To pilot a health disparities curriculum for incoming first year medical students and evaluate changes in knowledge. 2) To help students become aware of personal biases regarding racial and ethnic minorities. 3) To inspire students to commit to serving indigent populations.


First year students participated in a 5-day elective course held before orientation week. The course used the curricular goals that had been developed by the Society of General Internal Medicine Health Disparities Task Force. Thirty-two faculty members from multiple institutions and different disciplinary backgrounds taught the course. Teaching modalities included didactic lectures, small group discussions, off-site expeditions to local free clinics, community hospitals and clinics, and student-led poster session workshops. The course was evaluated by pre-post surveys.


Sixty-four students (60% of matriculating class) participated. Survey response rates were 97–100%. Students’ factual knowledge (76 to 89%, p < .0009) about health disparities and abilities to address disparities issues improved after the course. This curriculum received the highest rating of any course at the medical school (overall mean 4.9, 1 = poor, 5 = excellent).


This innovative course provided students an opportunity for learning and exploration of a comprehensive curriculum on health disparities at a critical formative time.


health disparities curriculum education medical students underserved 


  1. 1.
    Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2006 National Healthcare Disparities Report. Accessed February, 2008.
  2. 2.
    Institute of Medicine. Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2002.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Racial and ethnic disparities in health care: a position paper of the American college of physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2004;141(3):226–32.Google Scholar
  4. 4. Accessed February 2008.
  5. 5.
    Functions and Structure of a Medical School Standard for Accreditation of Medical Education Programs Leading to the M.D. Degree. Available at Accessed February 2008.
  6. 6.
    Flores G, Denise G, Kastner B. The teaching of cultural issues in U.S. and Canadian medical schools. Acad Med. 2000;75(5):451–5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Green AR, Betancourt JR, Carrillo JE. Integrating social factors into cross-cultural medical education. Acad Med. 2002;77:193–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Beach MC, Price EG, Gary TL, et al. Cultural competence—A systematic review of health care provider educational interventions. Med Care. 43(4):356–73.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gregg J, Saha S. Losing culture on the way to competence: the use and misuse of culture in medical education. Acad Med. 2006;81(6):542–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Betancourt JR. Cultural competence and medical education: many names, many perspectives, one goal. Acad Med. 2006;81(6):499–501.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mavis B, Keefe CW, Reznich C. Summer research training programme in health care disparities. Med Educ. 2004;38:1182–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Tang TS, Fantone JC, Bozynski MA, et al. Implementation and evaluation of an undergraduate sociocultural medicine program. Acad Med. 2002;77(6):578–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Tavernier LA, Connor PD, Gates D, et al. Does exposure to medically underserved areas during training influence eventual choice of practice location? Med Educ. 2003;37(4):299–304.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ko M, Edelstein RA, Kevin ED, et al. Impact of the University of California, Los Angeles/Charles R. Drew University Medical Education Program on medical students’ intentions to practice in underserved areas. Acad Med. 2005;80:803–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Smith W, Betancourt JR, Wynia MK, et al. Recommendations for teaching about racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(9):654–65.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica B. Vela
    • 1
  • Karen E. Kim
    • 2
  • Hui Tang
    • 3
  • Marshall H. Chin
    • 1
  1. 1.Section of General Internal Medicine, Department of MedicineUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Section of Gastroenterology, Department of MedicineUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Center for Health and the Social SciencesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations