“Why have I never learned this?”: Exploring health disparities through a critical consciousness lens
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Health disparities are differences in health outcomes that result from social, economic, and political inequalities that disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) at an alarming rate. Implementing health disparities topics early in educational programs proves beneficial for informing, equipping, and engaging future health and medical professionals in eliminating disparities. This qualitative ethnographic case study was designed and implemented using critical consciousness. Critical consciousness is an ongoing and continuous process of increasing awareness, reflection, and action. My study addressed a critical gap in the research of health disparities that centers student awareness as the central focus. In this study, critical consciousness was adopted to shift the conversation beyond awareness to reflection and action for guiding students in thinking about BIPOC communities impacted by health inequalities. Implementing health disparity topics early in educational programs are beneficial for informing, equipping, and engaging future health and medical professionals. I present how 140 undergraduate students enrolled in a large midwestern university navigated a health disparities curriculum designed to raise student awareness of health disparities, engage in written reflections, and explore actions for eliminating disparities. In this study, a large majority of students explored health disparities for the first time, and the design of the learning modules allowed them to critically explore the concepts online and at their own pace. Findings showed student development of consciousness across the learning modules. An increased awareness for the meaning of the term and identifying BIPOC and poor communities impacted by health disparities. Reflective and collaborative opportunities highlighted increases that resulted in students challenging and confronting health inequities by asking critical questions and sharing personal narratives. Which includes the adoption of new language, critical discussions about the absence of course content, and plans to seek out mentorship that contributed to the development of action. Undergraduate pre-health and pre-medical professional students that engage in health disparity topics using critical consciousness develop strategies to confront and challenge inequalities that if continued could have major implications for their work as professionals for eliminating disparities.