Rounds with Leadership - Understanding Health Equity

Published June 28, 2017

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a new forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

In the June 22 edition of the Health Affairs Blog, Dr. Paula Braveman, Director of the Center on Social Disparities in Health at the University of California, San Francisco, addresses the need for a common understanding for the term health equity. Though this term is widely used by policy makers, researchers, and health leaders, how health equity is defined varies considerably, which may keep stakeholders from pursuing a common agenda for addressing real gaps in our work to improve health and health care.

To clarify what is meant by health equity, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) convened an expert panel to develop a core definition. Health equity is the cornerstone of the RWJF’s Culture of Health initiative, which aims to achieve a society in which everyone has an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. Following thoughtful discussions and deliberations, the panel produced the following definition:

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care (p. 2).

According to Dr. Braveman, establishing this new understanding “signals readiness for a paradigm shift in the focus of health equity research and action in this country, and a growing resolve to identify the underlying inequities in opportunities to be healthy and to acknowledge the need for systematic strategies to address them.” Read more about this breakthrough work in a new RWJF report titled “What is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make?

AACN’s work to advance health equity is underscored in the association’s new position statement on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in Academic Nursing, which was endorsed by the membership at the Spring Annual Meeting in March. By supporting this statement, the leaders of our nation’s nursing schools reconfirmed their commitment to addressing pervasive inequities in health care by ensuring the preparation of nurses able to meet the needs of all individuals in an increasingly diverse American society.

AACN has long recognized that diversity, inclusion, and equity is critical to nursing education and fundamental to developing a nursing workforce able to provide high quality, culturally appropriate, and congruent health care. In addition to focusing our public policy work on addressing this important need, AACN is committed to working with all member schools and stakeholders to prepare a community of scholars, clinicians, educators, and leaders who fully value the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity in promoting health and wellness.

Developing the new AACN position statement was only the first step in AACN’s agenda related to advancing diversity, inclusion, and equity. At its March meeting, the Board of Directors endorsed an ambitious set of recommendations put forth by the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, which includes:

  • Establishing a new regular AACN Committee for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.
  • Conducting trainings in Holistic Admissions Review and Unconscious Bias.
  • Developing a faculty pipeline program for early-career diverse faculty members, including a mentoring component to build successful academic careers.
  • Enhancing organizational capacity for member schools seeking to advance diversity and inclusion by developing resources and tool kits.
  • Collaborating with practice partners to identify opportunities where nursing practice and education can interface to address issues of disparities in healthcare delivery.

For more details on these programs and opportunities, see our Diversity & Inclusion section.