Interprofessional Approaches to Health Disparities

Interprofessional Approaches to Health Disparities & Service Learning Program Classes, 2014-2015


The IAHD is a longitudinal interprofessional* course offered during the Fall and Spring semesters to students in UIC Health Professions Colleges. Course work is grounded in social determinants of health and campus-community partnerships with Chicago Area Community Agencies addressing health disparities through serving the following vulnerable groups: the elderly, persons living with HIV/AIDS, the homeless, immigrants & refugees, incarcerated populations and survivors of intimate partner violence.

*Interprofessional Education is defined as “when students from two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes” (World Health Organization, 2010). The IAHD learning experiences will be guided by the framework developed by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative. In keeping with the guiding principles of IPEC, the IAHD learning environment will foster collaboration without hierarchy of any particular discipline.


To equip learners with essential skills to improve health care for underserved populations and transform health disparities through interprofessional education, research and collaborative practice.


Participation in the IAHD will enable trainees to:

  • Effectively engage in identifying and addressing social determinants of health impacting vulnerable populations;
  • Acquire working knowledge and hands-on experience with community-based participatory research (CBPR) and quality improvement (QI) methods;
  • Develop and carry out an interprofessional community-based research project designed to improve health care access, communication, care coordination, or additional priority issues for vulnerable populations;
  • Develop skills for functioning as effective members of interprofessional teams; and
  • Develop skills for leadership, advocacy and scholarship.


In the current era of health care reform and redesign, new models of health care delivery need careful integration with innovative models of health professions education.

Traditional health professions education takes place in silos, with limited opportunities for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and other health professionals to learn and practice in interprofessional teams during their formative years. A wealth of evidence supports the usefulness of interprofessional training for effective health care delivery, building collaborative linkages among health professionals and communities, and thereby facilitating the provision of patient-centered care, a cornerstone of quality designated by the Institute of Medicine.Based on consensus by UIC health professional schools, a curriculum structure that integrates longitudinal public health education, with CBPR and QI research, in an interprofessional learning environment, is essential for preparing health care leaders with skills to effectively address the rising burden of key primary care and public health concerns.


Health Disparities refer to population-specific differences in the presence of disease, health outcomes, or access to health care. These differences can affect how frequently a disease impacts a group, how many people get sick, or how often the disease causes death or disability. A common foundation of various definitions of health disparities rests on the notion that not all differences in health status between groups are disparities; differences that systematically and negatively impact less advantaged groups are considered disparities.

Health Inequities refer to population differences in health status and health outcomes that are due to social injustices. Those injustices are typically the result of policies, or the lack thereof, that allow some populations to receive inadequate types and distributions of health promoting resources, including social, economic, environmental or healthcare resources, that facilitate how and where people are born, grow, live, work, play, and age. These non-medical factors are called social determinants of health (SDoH).

Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) is a collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings to the table. CBPR begins with a topic important to the community and aims to combine knowledge with action for achieving social change.As an emerging research methodology, CBPR has numerous advantages over traditional research and is more effective in addressing complex health disparities.

Quality Improvement (QI) is a set of methodologies for analysis of performance and systematic efforts to improve it. Given our focus on patient-centered care, we will use the Institute for Health care Improvement’s (IHI) Collaborative Model and the Model for Improvement as the guiding framework, with Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles, which stand for PLAN: testing a change by developing a plan to test the change, DO: carrying out the test, STUDY: observing and learning from the consequences, and ACT: determining what modifications should be made to the change. Improvement changes are tried through multiple, consecutive ‘pilot tests’ on a small-scale before committing valuable time and resources to system-wide implementation.   

Public Health Education emphasizes health promotion and disease prevention to improve health outcomes for individuals and populations. Traditional medical curricula focus on disease diagnosis and treatment for individuals. Public health principles, including understanding systems and how social and behavioral factors affect health outcomes, are particularly important when considering health care for underserved populations. Despite calls for integration of public health and health professions education, few have integrated public health principles and competencies into traditional health professional curricula.

Interprofessional Education is defined as “when students from two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes” (World Health Organization, 2010).  The IAHD learning experiences will be guided by the framework developed by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC)* organized around the following Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice:

  • Values/Ethics for Interprofessional Practice
  • Roles/Responsibilities
  • Interprofessional Communication
  • Teams and Teamwork

In keeping with the guiding principles of IPEC, the IAHD learning environment fosters collaboration without hierarchy of any particular discipline.             


Students will have the opportunity to:

  1. Acquire skills for functioning as effective members of interprofessional teams.
  2. Gain working knowledge of CBPR and QI methods.
  3. Improve health care access, communication and care coordination for vulnerable populations.
  4. Develop expertise in one area of concentration – Geriatrics, HIV/AIDS, Homelessness, Immigrant & Refugee Health, Incarcerated Populations, or Intimate Partner Violence
  5. Apply principles of teamwork and collaborations to address health disparities.

Interested in more information on this program?  Please email

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