Health inequalities and the role of medical schools and students in tackling them – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Dr Kartikeya Ojha, Dr Shampa Gupta and Ms Shreya Nandan, all global health advocates. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), a cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.


Dramatic gains in life expectancy and health over the past century have been accompanied by an increase in social and health inequalities. Unjustified disparity in health is called health inequality. It is unfair to allow health disparities to exist when they can be eliminated. Systematic disparities in health that appropriate measures could prevent are called health inequalities.

The many social determinants of health and health systems contribute to the growing disparity in health between the richest and poorest members of our society. Inclusive health groups, such as those experiencing homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, and sex work, have significantly higher morbidity and deaths than the general population. These groups represent the absolute end of health inequalities. Additionally, persistent racial and ethnic differences and gaps in access to health care due to financial hardship can lead to even greater anomalies in the delivery of health care. Even though there are health disparities almost everywhere, different countries have been found to have different levels of discrepancies.

Medical students have a moral obligation to fight for change since doing nothing is complicity. They are well qualified and well placed to do so. Physicians are in an excellent position to become Virchow’s “natural advocates of the poor,” strong and effective advocates for health care reform and society at large. Whether they want it or employ it, medical student organizations have more and more lobbying power. The COVID-19 pandemic, where influential health voices have shaped the societal narrative of the outbreak and worked to correct widespread public misconceptions, has highlighted the need for strong advocacy by medical students within society at large.

Medical schools must prepare students to work in an increasingly diverse society. A growing need for physicians working in people-oriented specialties in medically underserved areas has been caused by changing demographic trends and an ever-expanding healthcare system. All medical students should receive training in cross-cultural communication to reduce social gaps in health. Medical schools and curricula remain mostly unsupportive of undergraduate students’ passion for taking action against injustice. The undergraduate public health curriculum must be revolutionized to provide future physicians with the knowledge and motivation to address disparities. Epidemiology and statistics need to be put into context by focusing on individuals, stories and experiences. In addition, medical schools must be careful not to lose sight of their obligations and their role in local communities.
Medical students must also transform their points of view, their strategies and their modes of operation. The unique approach to learning more about this issue is to engage with local communities and live it.

Medical students can lead by example for a better understanding of the needs of diverse patient populations and their challenges by actively identifying the issues that most affect local communities. Understanding risk factors, health inequities, and increased incidence of chronic disease in communities requires understanding how poverty, food insecurity, and dietary practices interact.

About the Author

Dr. Kartikeya Ojha, Dr. Shampa Gupta and Ms. Shreya Nandan are global health advocates. Dr. Kartikeya, an incredible public speaker, working as a medical intern in Sikkim, is a voracious researcher. He aspires to become a compassionate interventional cardiologist. Dr Shampa Gupta, working as Cardiac RMO, West Bengal Hospital. Is a passionate researcher and wants to make a difference in the future and in people’s lives through her knowledge and skills. Shreya, a 4th year medical student in Sikkim, aspires to one day become a general surgeon. She is passionate about using her skills and education for the benefit of humanity.

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