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Q + A: Lourdes Estrada, PhD

Posted by on Tuesday, July 18, 2023 in Q+A, Summer 2023 .

Lourdes Estrada, PhD, is the newly named assistant dean of Health Equity Education in the School of Medicine. Estrada is also a professor of Biochemistry, associate director of Academic Programs & Operations for the Medical Scientist Training Program and director of Vanderbilt Academy for Excellence in Education.

Q. What does ‘health equity education’ mean?

A. Health equity education means equipping our health care professionals with the skills, behaviors and attitudes (i.e., competencies) that will allow them to practice the value that “everyone has fair and just opportunities to be as healthy as possible.”

Q. What are your goals as the new assistant dean of Health Equity Education?

A. Based on the VUMC/VUSM Racial Equity Plan, I will be embarking on a process to integrate and advance health equity education across the UME curriculum to prepare our learners “to understand the social construct of race and the impact of racism on health and equip learners to seek racial equity in all endeavors.” First, we are developing a strategic plan that engages all major stakeholders, particularly our learners.

Q. What are the recent health equity accomplishments of VUSM?

A. The VUMC/VUSM Racial Equity Plan, led by the Office of Health Equity, is guiding our efforts and focusing on areas where we all can be impactful. Recent successful initiatives include removing racial biases in clinical tools that lead to inequities, HR policies that reduce discrimination against our health care workers, and training and education on antiracism, microaggressions and bias.

Q. What do you foresee as changing in medical education within the next five years?

A. My sincere hope is that every medical school prioritizes education in health equity concepts and skills as core competencies that all physicians must attain prior to graduation. We must have well-integrated curricula that thread knowledge and impart skills to all future healers to continue to perform the daily actions that allow all to have the opportunity to be healthy. The ideal curriculum will not treat health equity as an elective or deliver it in short bursts, but consider it as fundamental to the practice of medicine as pathophysiology, anatomy or history and physical-taking skills.

Q. What are the challenges that medical schools face with regards to health equity?

A. There is a scarcity of experts in the field of health equity to teach and role model implementation in the workplace. Learning theory is important as the basis for the real work in the clinical setting in front of patients. Our committed health care professionals describe that the high workplace demands and the health care system do not provide the space to thoughtfully engage with patients at the level that allows them to uncover the social contributors of health. Our medical students learn these great concepts and skills in the classrooms but lack the role modeling in the workplace, which makes it difficult for them to retain and further develop the skills we teach them.