Health Equity Circle helps students realize their power to effect change

The Spokane chapter of Health Equity Circle held an election forum in October.
The Spokane chapter of Health Equity Circle held an election forum in October, offering voter registration, a candidate Q&A and information on ballot measures (photo by Cori Kogan).

A program founded by a faculty member at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is showing future doctors, nurses, and pharmacists how they can organize to bring about change.

The program is Health Equity Circle and student-led chapters now are active across the West.

Dr. Luis Manriquez, an assistant clinical professor at the WSU medical school, started the Health Equity Circle as a medical student at the University of Washington. His view is that medicine is and should be more than a focus on disease centered in one body. “Oftentimes, disease is an outcome of a social condition,” he said.

Health Equity Circle chapters recruit student members from multiple programs and schools because  health equity is a shared responsibility. The Spokane chapter, for example, encompasses health sciences students from WSU, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, and the University of Washington.

Chapters work with local nonprofits and social service agencies to figure out local needs. “You don’t want to tell community partners what they need,” noted Sarah Goh, one of the two student leaders of the Spokane chapter, along with Nikki Delgado. Both are second-year medical students at WSU.

In Spokane, Health Equity Circle projects include a mental health pilot in schools and daycare centers; providing training on how to use naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose; and reducing language barriers in accessing healthcare, among others.

“I’ve realized students can do a lot,” said Delgado. “It’s valuable to meet community partners and see what their needs are, and it’s fun to see other students get excited about advocacy.”

Manriquez said creating the Health Equity Circle was a way to help students engage with their communities, give them tools for community organizing they can use during their careers, and advance social justice.

He has been the primary driver of the nonprofit since it was founded, but a recent generous grant from Genentech to WSU is enabling the university to partner with Health Equity Circle to hire a regional organizer. Manriquez also teaches community organizing in the WSU medical school and practices family medicine in Spokane.

“With this grant and my position at WSU, it’s an example of the investment the college is making in addressing the health needs of Washington,” he said. “Not just the education mission, but also working with community partners and taking, in a sense, some responsibility for the community’s health.”

Goh said she didn’t know she wanted to work in community organizing until she joined the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

“As a physician you have a voice,” she said. “It’s great to see how as medical students we can make systemic change.”  

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