When I graduated from medical school and took the Hippocratic Oath, I vowed to not just treat the illness on a patient’s medical history form but to treat the person behind the diagnosis. To do this well, clinicians need to understand the whole person and the context in which they live — their race, gender identity, native language, socioeconomic status, or zip code, among other things — to ensure equitable care. According to the CDC, health equity is reached when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential regardless of social position or other socially determined circumstances.
Yet, health inequities abound in our healthcare systems. Research says that those Americans who live in rural communities have less access to care and subsequently worse health outcomes than those who live in non-rural communities. African American adults are more likely to report they cannot afford to see a doctor, leading to worse health outcomes. African Americans ages 18-49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease than whites. Beyond race and community, even employment status has a great effect on one’s health. Members of the LGBTQ community are twice as likely to be unemployed and uninsured than their straight counterparts, reporting lower health and quality of life.