Equity in health care means providing personalized care to ensure that every individual can achieve the same level of health. Think of health care equity as reaching the same destination but by different means of transportation.

In contrast, equality in health care means that everyone receives the same amount of care, regardless of their individual needs. For example, equality in health care might look like a doctor spending equal amounts of time with each patient, regardless of their differing levels of need, or a vaccine being made available to an entire community without considering specific vulnerabilities.

Currently, there are numerous disparities in health care. Reports highlight issues related to accessibility, affordability, and educational gaps. Different minority groups, such as Hispanic, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN), and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (NHOPI) people, have reported disparities including unfair treatment due to race, difficulty affording basic needs like health insurance, and challenges in finding doctors who can effectively communicate with and educate them.

Additionally, accessibility is a significant issue for people living in rural and remote areas, where a shortage of health care providers further intensifies these disparities.

The Role of Education in Health Care Equity

At the most basic level, education advances quality health care by ensuring that professionals are well-prepared to meet the diverse needs of the population. Graduate education, in particular, is crucial for equipping health care providers with the specialized knowledge and skills necessary to address complex health issues.

Continuing education is equally important in the health care system. The field of health care is dynamic, with new treatments, technologies, and research findings emerging constantly. Health care professionals must engage in lifelong learning to stay current with these advancements and to continuously improve their practice.

Evidence In Motion advances a stronger health care system by supporting the full continuum of educational needs through its university partnerships and post-professional offerings.

However, access to this educational system is not always equitable for a diverse array of qualified students. Barriers such as financial constraints, limited access to resources, and systemic biases can prevent capable individuals from pursuing advanced education in health care.

Accessibility of Health Care Education

For many, health care education feels out of reach. Various barriers keep prospective students at bay, including economic strain, cultural obstacles, and geographic location.

As previously mentioned, people living in rural and remote areas face difficulties accessing standard health care, and the same is true for those interested in pursuing a health care education. Geographic distance can deter prospective students if their desired field of study is not offered within a reasonable distance from their home.

For many students, not only those living in rural or remote areas, leaving their hometown or city is not an option. Financial strains may prevent them from moving, and cultural constraints, such as the need to assist and care for family members in multigenerational households, can also play a role.

Affordability of Health Care Education

As previously discussed, the cost of health care education is rising. Many students are forced to take out hefty loans to pursue an education in health care.

Recent findings show that about 90-91% of Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students graduate with some amount of debt. Statistics like these can easily discourage potential graduate students, especially those already struggling with financial stability.

Prospective graduate health care students should consider their options, such as government assistance, non-profit organizations, private sector initiatives, and hybrid accelerated learning programs to help curb costs.

Relevance of Health Care Education

In addition to affordability and accessibility, the relevance of health care education plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining a diverse array of qualified students. Programs that lack culturally competent messaging may inadvertently alienate prospective students from diverse backgrounds.

Moreover, fostering an inclusive environment within educational institutions can enhance the learning experience for all students. This involves creating curricula that include diverse perspectives, hiring faculty from varied backgrounds, and promoting a culture that values the contributions of everyone.

“One key factor in creating a more diverse cohort is assembling a more diverse faculty,” says EIM Physical Therapy Academic Officer, Dr. Angela MacCabe PT, DPT, PHD. “It is important for students to see faculty who come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. When students see a bit of themselves reflected in the faculty, they are more likely to be drawn to the program or field, leading to a more diverse workforce.”

A quote graphic with a blue background featuring a statement by Dr. Angela MacCabe, PT, DPT, PHD, Physical Therapy Academic Officer at EIM. The quote reads: “One key factor in creating a more diverse cohort is assembling a more diverse faculty. It is important for students to see faculty who come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. When students see a bit of themselves reflected in the faculty, they are more likely to be drawn to the program or field, leading to a more diverse workforce.”

Ultimately, the relevance of health care education is not just about the content but also about the context in which it is delivered. Ensuring that programs speak to the experiences of a diverse student body can help break down barriers to entry and create a more equitable and effective health care workforce.

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How Hybrid Education Improves Health Care Equity

Hybrid learning models, which blend online and in-person learning, create a more diverse student cohort. By reducing geographic obstacles, a wider net can be cast for students seeking to obtain an advanced education in health care.

This is especially important for students in rural and remote communities, as well as for students who live in multigenerational homes or face cultural obstacles. With the flexibility to learn from home, coupled with occasional in-person lab immersions, students can achieve their academic and career goals.

Graph includes a larger chart illustrating the average enrollment diversity across Evidence In Motion partner DPT programs, highlighting a significant representation of racial and ethnic groups. The smaller chart shows the CAPTE average, serving as a benchmark.
Comparison of Diversity Metrics in Partner Programs vs. CAPTE Average (AY 2023): The larger chart illustrates the average enrollment diversity across EIM's partner programs, highlighting a significant representation of racial and ethnic groups.

Real-World Example: HPU

A prime illustration of how hybrid learning can improve equity in health care education is the partnership between EIM and Hawaii Pacific University (HPU). EIM worked diligently with HPU to bring the first and only accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program to Hawaii.

This program not only brought an educational opportunity to the remote islands of Hawaii but also allowed Native Hawaiians to stay in Hawaii while obtaining their DPT degree. This reduces cost concerns and enables Native Hawaiian students to remain with their families and communities.

Another benefit of EIM and HPU’s partnership is that it encourages Native Hawaiian and other rural or remote students to stay in their communities post-graduation, creating greater access to quality health care. Increasing accessibility for students in rural and remote areas not only enhances equity in health care education, but in health care as a whole.

A great example of this is HPU DPT student, Cody Maltezo. “As I started to volunteer, I learned that there aren't that many physical therapists here and there's so many people that need the therapy,” says Cody of his home state. “And so, I wanted to be part of that change and to help out.”

Final Thoughts: Why Equity in Health Care Education Matters

Equity in health care education leads to greater equity in health care. Programs like hybrid accelerated learning are a great start in achieving this goal.

Allowing students to learn, live, thrive, and eventually serve their communities helps bridge current health care disparities such as accessibility, comfort with health care providers, and effective communication and education. Equity in health care education is imperative for achieving equity in health care.

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