Course Unit | Session 11: Closing the Gaps in Health Disparities and Minority Health Professionals: Are These Gaps the Unfinished Civil Rights Agenda?

Session 11: Closing the Gaps in Health Disparities and Minority Health Professionals: Are These Gaps the Unfinished Civil Rights Agenda?


Health disparities have garnered national attention with annual reporting on the quality of health care and the state of health disparities by Federal agencies. Private foundations and public institutions now dedicate a major portion of their work to eliminating health disparities. This session will return to some of the questions posed in the first two sessions, now with a fuller understanding of the history of race and racism in medicine, and the contributions of African American health professionals to meeting the needs of Black persons in this country. We will ask how can we as individuals and as a nation achieve equity in health outcomes for all Americans. 

Required Readings:

Joint Center for Policial and Economic Studies. Place Matters: Ensuring Opportunities for Good Health for All, 2012

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Achieving Equity in Health: Health Policy Brief. Health Affairs. October 2011.

Sullivan Commission. Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions. 2004.

Nathan Wesley, Jr. Black Hospitals in America: History, Contributions and Demise, pp. 3-22. 

Optional readings:

Paula A. Braveman, SA Egerter, RE Mockenhaupt. Broadening the focus: the need to address the social determinants of health. Amer Jou Prev Med. 2011;40:S4-S18.

David B. Smith. Racial and ethnic health disparities and the unfinished civil rights agenda. Health Affairs  2005;24:317-324.

David B. Smith. Chapter 5, “The Federal Retreat,” and “Healing a Nation.” In: Health Care Divided, pp. 143-187, 312-336.

Ruth S. Hanft. Minorities and the health professions. Health Affairs  71-84.

Sullivan Alliance. Increasing and diversifying America’s Health Professions: An Opportunity to Remedy a Health System in Crisis. Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Nov 2008.


  1. What are the social determinants of health?  Have the social determinants of health been important as a cause of greater health disparities among minorities throughout the 20th c?
  2. Are social determinants of health seen within middle class and/or educated groups?
  3. Did Medicare achieve its goal of racially integrating hospitals and health professions schools?  If not, why not?
  4. What changes can be made to increase the number of minorities in the health professions?  Would this be effective in reducing health disparities?
  5. How should data on health disparities be collected to best inform policy and capture information relevant to reducing morbidity and mortality differences?