Health Equity Scholars cohort
June 14, 2023

A Model of Interprofessional Education: Health Equity Scholars Program

by Dr. Angela Alston

In the midst of a global pandemic that exposed deep inequities in so many aspects of life – especially health disparities – grew an opportunity for students and faculty to discover solutions.

After the Franklin County Board of Health declared racism a public health crisis in May 2020, our College of Nursing’s incoming dean, Dr. Karen Rose, associate vice chancellor of Interprofessional Practice and Education (IPE) Dr. Andrea Pfeifle and I collaborated to create a program that leaned into society’s emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion and aligned with our university’s strategic plan and efforts through our Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Ohio State’s Health Equity Scholars Program was born in autumn 2021 as a partnership between the College of Nursing, Office of IPE and Office of the Chief Wellness Officer to engage students and faculty in meaningful, intentional passion projects that fulfill a specific purpose to address health equity in our community. The alignment with organizational strategy is key to engaging in work that will guide the generation and implementation of evidence to improve health equity in our communities.

The program so far has successfully matriculated 21 interdisciplinary student scholars from disciplines including nursing, medicine, public health and optometry. Faculty mentors have been equally diverse in their disciplines, including engineering, health and rehabilitation science, biomedical informatics and social work. Some of the projects involved include:

From Awareness to Action: Self-Advocacy Education to Address Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Obstetric Healthcare

  • Students: Hayat Mekonen (U), Environmental Public Health major in the College of Public Health; Deborah Fadoju (G), Doctor of Medicine major in the College of Medicine
  • Faculty mentor: Kamilah Dixon, MD, MA, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Historical Structural Racism, Neighborhood Disinvestment and Psychological Distress among Central Ohio Residents

  • Students: Diewo Camara (U), Public Health Sociology major in the College of Public Health; Xueting Xia (G), Statistics major in the College of Arts and Sciences
  • Faculty mentor: Jesse J. Plascak, PhD, College of Medicine

Initiation and Maintenance of a Community Fridge to Address Health Disparities Resulting from Food Insecurity

  • Students: Courtney Jewell (G) from Speech and Hearing Science, Jevin Litwiler (U) from Health Sciences
  • Faculty mentor: Dr. Claire Bollinger, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Develop a Community-Based Wellness Program Working with Partnering in Negating Statistics (P.I.N.S.) for Black Women as Part of a Research Project

  • Students: Sarah Addison (G) from Medicine and Faith Metlock (U) from Nursing
  • Faculty mentor: Dr. Timiya Nolan, College of Nursing

The value of the projects for the communities they serve mirrors the value of the experience for our students. One of our inaugural Health Equity Scholars, Mary Otoo, earned the 2022 American Optometric Student of the Year award and indicated that her involvement in our program contributed to this recognition. With the support of her faculty mentor, Dr. Dean VanNasdale from the College of Optometry, she created animations for YouTube to educate the public about the importance of vision and eye health. Preventing vision loss is critical, as adverse effects on vision health are often irreversible.

During this past academic year, the program initiated a partnership with CareSource, a nationally-recognized non-profit health plan based in Dayton, Ohio. CareSource sponsored the CONTEXT pilot program, promoting an intersectional view using a dashboard to support provider engagement with patient social determinants of health and perceived biases. Working closely with the Columbus Free Clinic, scholars Emmanuel Long and Leslie Aguilar Ramos and faculty mentor Dr. Naleek Fareed sought to identify opportunities to improve care delivered by health care providers and was supported by CareSource’s health equity and quality staff. Partnerships such as this allow amplification of the work and provide exposure for students on how broad their impact can be within an interdisciplinary and collaborative model.

Addressing health equity is not simply for health science professions. All disciplines have a role in this work, and we are very proud of our scholars and their faculty mentors for their dedication and engagement to improve the community in which we live and serve.

Let us all be encouraged to think about how we use our skills, talents and voices to support the health of our communities, both through service work and policy advocacy. The future of our society depends on it.

Angela Alston, DNP, MPH, APRN-CNP serves as assistant clinical professor, lead faculty in the women’s health nurse practitioner specialty track and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University College of Nursing. She is looking forward to welcoming the third cohort of Health Equity Scholars and faculty mentors in autumn 2023.

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