The first step in rooting out societal inequities is to shine a light on them. Thanks to grants from the Minnesota Medical Association, U of M medical students Sylvia Blomstrand and Arman Shahriar have turned their beacons on disparities in, respectively, healthcare for deaf patients and financing of medical school.
Hearing the deaf
In reading online, Blomstrand, a fourth-year student, found that deaf patients have poor health outcomes.
While ASL interpreters are becoming the norm in many healthcare settings, many rural areas still lack them. Also, reading lips and body language is harder with PPE. Other problems reach deeper.
“We tend to fail patients when there are cultural differences that we’re unaware of,” says Blomstsrand. “For example, not everyone sees being deaf as a disability, and some are pushed into getting cochlear implants or being assimilated into a culture that includes hearing when they’re not comfortable with it.”
Blomstrand’s project involves a national survey and many focus group interviews with d/Deaf and profoundly hard of hearing people to identify areas where healthcare could improve.
“The survey results are in, and we are beginning to analyze the data and run focus groups throughout March 2021,” she says. “We plan to disseminate our findings at the Best Practices in Health Sciences Education Conference this year, and publish the results to better inform the next generation of physicians on this often overlooked minority.”
Breaking the money taboo
“It is taboo to talk about money in our society, but in the United States, money and higher education have always been tightly linked,” says Shahriar, a third-year student. “The price of medical school has skyrocketed in the past half-century, outpacing inflation by over 700 percent. During this same period of time, racial economic disparities have worsened.”
Exorbitant costs can deter otherwise academically qualified, underrepresented minorities from the field. And a heavy debt burden during medical training has been associated with poor mental health and well-being.
With medical student and professional colleagues, Shahriar is analyzing nationally representative data from the Association of American Medical Colleges to see how students of different racial/ethnic and financial backgrounds are paying for medical school, via means divided into broad categories: family money, loans, or scholarships. Their analysis controls for such factors as year, age, gender identity, and school ownership.
“Medical students' financing methods may reflect resources and opportunity, and disparities in financing could compromise both access to the profession and equity among trainees,” Shahriar says.
Shahriar aims to make administrators in the areas of scholarships and financial aid aware of any such disparities that may exist.