Our sixth winning entry comes from Nouran Ghanem of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University:
An empathetic shift in consciousness is required. As a graduate student in health policy, I’m inclined to explain why informing policy to address health disparities is the best path forward. Policy enables change. Influencing governmental action guarantees a chance to promote funding for health disparity activities and evidence-based strategies in community and public health efforts. Albeit, a flawed and difficult path, it represents the pragmatic approach to affecting health disparities. Though, a tempting argument to make, one much simpler has overcame me recently.
Before policy, there is politics, and before politics, there are ideas, conversations, mass media, a knowledge economy, the tools of the information age; the widespread access of research and information. The impetus for a political thought is just that at an onset-a thought. In every historical example we have of change happening in the face of something we came to consider inhumane, wrong, immorally corrupt, egregious-people reasoned against opposition. The leaders of such historical movements for what culminates into our collective moral human progress argued why a particular social injustice was wrong in some way. They persuaded the public to empathize with a wrong situation, to regard it as indefensible and they succeeded. Reason is the “better angel of our nature”, deserving the greatest credit for the moral progress we enjoy today. I argue that this feeling of discontentment, cultivating it, making known the “wrong” situations which characterize health disparities is necessary for progress within the next decade in the amelioration of disparity.
If people, representatives, policymakers, pertinent industries began to increasingly see and comprehend the nature of health disparities then perhaps, society will begin to regard health disparity as an inconsistency in sound social justice, a glaring blemish for the “greatest nation”, continually harder to ignore. The idea though, must be present. It’s important that narratives, images of the challenging health situations prejudiced by disparity become visible all around, inducing empathy, disappointment and the impetus for change. A universal shift in consciousness towards caring about each other’s health or lack thereof, moving beyond self-centric mentality-the thinking that “if I have health insurance, that is all that matters” is required. I hope health disparities will become perceived as a social injustice just as we carry our most common, abhorrent examples of “wrong” from different times and/or circumstances.
Over time, I believe the shift in awareness will catch up to what we know and what we will know over the next decade about the social determinants of health, issues promulgated by access, cost and quality of care in the context of health disparities and recommendations designed by academia, industry and government. At this juncture, when people (and influential people) reach increased appreciation of health disparities and see themselves empowered by a substantial knowledge base, I believe a better policy environment for progressive action against health disparity is more possible than ever. Although not the focus of this case, I have confidence that policy, a preeminent instrument of change, can be used to create a more egalitarian and healthy union.