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Published May 15, 2019
Conner Morton, a first-year University of Wyoming WWAMI Medical Education Program student from Casper, has an interesting way of thinking about health equity in rural, underserved communities.
“Picture three people standing beside a river,” he says. “Suddenly, a child comes floating by. The first person jumps in and saves the child; then, a second child comes floating past. The second person on the riverbank also saves that child but decides to build a raft for any future rescues. Sure enough, a third child is in need of rescue. Once that child is safe, the third person on shore decides to go upstream to find out why this is happening in the first place.”
The third person’s response in Morton’s analogy is his own: how to raise community awareness so preventable health problems can be treated before they become more serious health issues.
Wyoming WWAMI, along with the Associated Students of UW (ASUW) and the Service Learning and Activities Committee (SLAC), recently sponsored a community-organizing workshop aimed at helping students establish a Wyoming chapter of Health Equity Circle (HEC), a national education initiative to address health care equity in local communities.
WWAMI is the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho Medical Education Program.
This workshop was specifically designed to teach future health care professionals how to effectively organize communities behind a collective cause. Instructors included Luis Manriquez, a WWAMI alumnus and founder of the HEC; Joe Chrastil, a community organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in Seattle; and Jorge Montiel, a community organizer for IAF in Denver.
HEC at UW is an interdisciplinary group of students from throughout the College of Health Sciences, including the School of Pharmacy, Division of Social Work, School of Nursing, Division of Communication Disorders, medical education and preprofessional health students. Students in the Master of Human Nutrition Program also are part of this group. All are committed to addressing the negative impacts of upstream health issues in the local community, which stem from social factors such as lack of awareness of how to access programs such as Medicaid.
“As a collaborative group, we are motivated to understand these factors and take action to amend them,” Morton says. “The philosophy of the HEC is that ‘Health is more than health care.’ Social determinants of health are now recognized as evidence-based health disparities and should be considered equally alongside physical/biological symptoms in studying health risk factors.”
He continues, “While this knowledge is extremely important to implement into our future practices, our curricula provide information about health care inequities that we want to take a step further by taking action to address them -- helping students learn how to take action on these issues at their roots. The aim of the HEC is to treat negative social determinants of health care through advocacy and community organization.”
After building relationships with and learning from local community members and representatives, students in the Wyoming HEC hope to address issues such as lack of transportation, improving access to affordable health care, increasing health care education and literacy.
Chapters at other HEC sites around the country have used this education to work with state legislatures to allocate funding for education/health/social safety and the expansion of Medicaid, combat homelessness through creation of tent cities and much more.
“The Wyoming Health Equity Circle is a group of professional students who recognize that our voices have power, and we plan to use them in order to address the health inequities in our community,” Morton says.
UW College of Health Sciences students participating in the Wyoming HEC, listed by hometown, are:
Bingham, Neb. -- Jada Jensen.
Casper -- Marcus Couldridge, Erin Heald and Conner Morton.
Cody -- Amanda Golden.
Colorado Springs, Colo. -- Jenna Kindt.
Denver -- Rebecca Howell.
Encampment -- Jesse Hinshaw.
Gillette -- Adam Blaine.
Jackson -- Alexis Anderson.
Laramie -- Dylan Ren, Lauren Scandrett and Renae Wollman.
Littleton, Colo. -- Kara Nazminia.
Mead, Colo. -- Morgan Lu.
Meeker, Colo. -- Natalie Simonsen.
Rapid City, S.D. -- James Graber and Travis Williamson.
Rock Springs -- Rida Fatima.
Sheridan -- Demetre Gostas and Reed Ritterbusch.
Vernal, Utah -- Erin Gurney.