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Web-based learning event raises WVU dental, medical students’ awareness about diversity, health disparities

Web-based learning event raises WVU dental, medical students’ awareness about diversity, health disparities

Pictured from left: Christa Lilly, PhD; Shelia Price, DDS, EdD; Linda Nield, MD; and Manuel Vallejo, MD, DMD

A web-based learning event, which stems from a collaboration between the West Virginia University Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, is helping medical and dental students better understand health disparities in diverse patient populations.

Incoming medical and dental students complete an online assignment based upon real patient scenarios which address religion, sexual preference, socio-economic status, race, culture, and military veteran status. Pre- and post-questionnaires show that dental and medical students had a significant increase in their awareness of health disparities.

“This is part of our diversity, inclusion and health disparities thread. We have nearly 100 learning events woven throughout the four-year MD curriculum,” said Dr. Linda Nield, MD. “The ultimate goal is that when students graduate from WVU, they will be able to optimally care for any patient they encounter.”

Nield said before 2017, the assignment entailed in-person panels featuring individuals from different cultures. But due to scheduling conflicts between the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, the program coordinators decided to create an online program to better accommodate schedules. Since then, the incoming classes receive the learning event June 1 and are given a few months to read through the articles and complete the cases.

“This is a really nice collaboration,” said. Dr. Manuel Vallejo, MD, DMD. “The major benefit I see is increased awareness. Overall health care is much better if you have diverse people with diversity awareness. If we’re aware of issues and problems, it can lead to better health care for our patients.”

Their efforts were recently published in an article, “Raising Awareness about Health Disparities with a Medical and Dental School Web-Based Collaboration,” in the West Virginia Medical Journal. In addition to Nield and Vallejo, authors include Dr. Shelia Price, DDS, EdD, and Dr. Christa Lilly, PhD.

Student feedback has been very positive so far, Nield said. One student asked if they could share articles used in the learning event with a friend in another medical school; another student said they were proud to be accepted at a school that cares about these issues.

“The first step of fixing anything is knowing what the problems are,” Nield said. “We’re trying to keep their compassion at the highest level, and threading these topics through the curriculum keeps that alive. This pre-matriculation event really highlights how important this is.”