Advancing Equity in Health Care

Atrium Health’s mission is “To improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all,” and an important part of achieving that mission is improving health equity. Ask 20 different people how to achieve health equity, however, and you are likely to get 20 different answers.

A bird's-eye view of a group of people connected by lines.

Health equity is the state in which everyone has fair and equal opportunity to reach their highest level of health. Wake Forest University School of Medicine Dean Ebony Boulware, MD, MPH, has made addressing health equity a cornerstone of her life’s work and wants to see it embedded throughout the school.

“We are now entering a new era of medicine in which the pursuit of health equity is widely viewed as a fundamental goal,” says Boulware, who also serves as chief science officer and vice chief academic officer of Advocate Health. “Our school will reach new heights of achievement and impact as we infuse principles reinforcing the importance of health equity throughout our education, research and care as we seek to improve health for all.”

Proposed efforts include looking at the curricula and training for students and residents and determining how to incorporate learning about health equity as a priority. Boulware also wants to amplify health equity research, including recruiting several health equity researchers and boosting research already being conducted.

This aligns with the work and findings of the Racial Equity Task Force, formed by leaders within the school and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in 2020 to advance diversity, equity and inclusion across the academic learning health system. In 2022, the task force’s work was distilled into the Change Agenda for Racial Equity, a roadmap for the School of Medicine and the Medical Center to further racial equity and grow as anti-racist organizations.

That growth included establishing the Center to Advance Racial Equity (CARE) in 2023. CARE will promote and implement strategies to address racial inequities and accelerate organizational change, and will involve faculty, teammates, students and departments leading equity work across the system.

CARE is co-led by Boulware and Julie Ann Freischlag, MD, FACS, FRCSEd(Hon), DFSVS, MAMSE, CEO and chief academic officer of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, chief academic officer and executive vice president of Advocate Health, and executive vice president for health affairs at Wake Forest University. Co-directors are Amy McMichael, MD, and Sabina Gesell, PhD.

“I am excited about the opportunities this will bring to grow our culture of belonging so that equity intersects all we do — from our everyday culture and interactions to the many ways we research, train, discover and care for others,” Freischlag says.

Envisioning Equity

The commitment to health equity goes beyond the institution and its culture. Recognizing the importance of addressing health equity now and in the future, equity is now a core focus of the school’s research efforts. In support of this, the $100 million philanthropic ENVISION Campaign will fund groundbreaking biomedical research across all areas of health care, with a special focus on eight key areas. Not only is health equity one of those focus areas, but it also infuses all areas of the school’s health care research. For example:

  • Examining how the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is affected by health care disparities experienced by underrepresented groups.
  • Offering hundreds of clinical trials for cancer with diverse groups of participants.
  • Examining the role metabolism and unique biology play in diabetes and obesity.
  • Leading large-scale studies of lifestyle interventions (diet, exercise) and how to incorporate those across social groups to promote healthy aging.
  • Understanding the role neurobiology plays in substance abuse.
  • Engineering replacement tissues and organs, increasing accessibility and reducing reliance on organ donation.

Regardless of disease, research funded by The ENVISION Campaign will lead to better understanding of risk factors, identify the most effective treatments for patients with diverse backgrounds and expand access to clinical trials and telehealth technology. Donor support will help create new programs and expand current ones to better care for underserved populations to achieve the stated campaign goal: To transform health care for our patients, our communities and our next generation of health care leaders, while keeping health equity at the forefront of everything we do.