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GW SMHS-Led Research Measures Health Care Institutions’ Commitments to Social Missions, Health Equity

Sonal Batra, MDA team of researchers, led by Sonal Batra, MD, MST, associate professor of emergency medicine and of health policy and management at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), assessed the commitment of U.S.-based dental, medical, and nursing schools to their social missions and how closely the schools compared in their efforts.

“We’ve experienced significant shifts over the last few years, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for racial justice,” explained Batra. “These shifts have shined a spotlight on how health care institutions are tackling complex issues that directly affect health equity.”

Batra, with researchers from the Milken School of Public Health at GW, the Beyond Flexner Alliance, and the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia, surveyed 242 schools in areas on topics including educational programming, community engagement, governance, diversity and inclusion, institutional culture and climate, and research.

The team found that most schools incorporate social determinants of health and health disparities into their curricula, but only about half of all schools fold them into each year of study. More, public schools performed better than private schools in categories such as curriculum, school mission, community collaborations, and faculty diversity. Universities with doctoral programs and strong research activity also tended to have stronger, more active commitments than universities with less robust research, which may be reflective of the resources available to the former groups.

“While there is room for improvement, particularly with longitudinal incorporation of social mission in aligning curriculum and research with local community needs, and tracking and promoting diversity and inclusion, our overall findings were positive,” Batra said. “Participating in this process demonstrates a commitment on behalf of health professions school leaders to actively prioritize health equity and social justice missions.”

The study, “Analysis of Social Mission Commitment at Dental, Medical, and Nursing Schools in the U.S.,” appears in the May 9 issue of the JAMA Network Open.