Medical students are to study the causes of health inequalities as part of a degree course developed by Cwm Taf University Health Board.
The optional module is being offered for the first time this month to the students following an intercalated BSc course at Cardiff University.
Up to 10 medical students in their fourth year will take up the pioneering study at the Academic Centre at Keir Hardie Health Park in Merthyr Tydfil.
Part of their studies includes placements in clinics in Cwm Taf, with health checks teams at GP practices, drug addiction services, and visits to a food bank.
They will study the impact of social deprivation and rural poverty on the health of communities, including marginalised groups – children in poverty, the elderly, ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees who are particularly at risk of health inequalities.
Differences between people or groups due to social, geographical, biological or other factors have a huge impact because they result in people who are worst off experiencing poorer health and shorter lives.
Students will gain an understanding of challenges to accessing health care, the implications of recruitment difficulties and new ways of delivering healthcare. They will also examine potential solutions to health inequalities at local and national and global levels.
Lesley Jones, Head of Clinical Education at Cwm Taf, said the module was part of the board’s vision for the Academic Centre driven by the chair Dr Chris Jones and deputy chair Donna Mead.
It was developed through the existing partnership between the board and Cardiff University School of Medicine.
“The students will be shown Cwm Taf and offered a range of placements. We hope students who experience the challenges of working in this area will feel inspired to want to come back and work here.
“These are potentially our future workforce, the future professionals who could affect the health of our population.
Food banks and drug aid clinics
“Visiting food banks, drug aid clinics is the difference between talking in a classroom and seeing and talking about it first hand.
“They will discover the impact on people who leave it longer to present with an illness, who may also present sicker.”
The students are among those studying in depth clinical epidemiology – the causes and effects of diseases in populations, risk factors and targets for preventative healthcare.
Nadine Davies, academic link manager, said that VIPs (Volunteer Instructor Patients) would also support the module.
“Initially, we will have a maximum of 10 students taking the module over an academic year. But hopefully that number will increase in future,” she said.
Director of public health in Cwm Taf Kelechi Nnoaham said: “The wider social and environmental factors surrounding the patients’ illnesses, often non-biological, are a major cause of health inequalities.
“Health inequalities are real in the Welsh Valleys but they are not inevitable. We can do something about them. Raising the awareness of doctors about health inequalities by exposing them to the realities and causes while they are in training is key.
“That’s why I am very excited about our new BSc module in Health Inequalities. I look forward to seeing the difference I have no doubt it will make ultimately to the lived experiences of people in Cwm Taf.”
Christopher Jones, the chair of Cwm Taf University Health Board, said: “Inverse Care Law is now over 40 years old and remains a real and living challenge for our communities. Inequalities lie at the heart of poor outcomes and unfulfilled lives.
“This new module on health inequalities gives the time and space for people to focus and develop expertise and understanding in the field and hopefully inspire professionals in health and social care to take up the challenge.
“I wish all concerned the very best and look forward to seeing the next generation of movers and shakers in this important course.”
Donna Mead, who chairs the academic board, said: “The module is part of a planned intercalated BSc in Primary Care which was an idea I took to the Dean at Cardiff University and Academic Partnership Board. Hopefully this will be one lever which also shows off Cwm Taf as a diverse area where GPs would want to work.”
Pictured above: Nadine Davies, academic link manager, and Lesley Jones, head of clinical education.