November 12, 2018 08:59 am David Mitchell – It's easy to pinpoint the exact moment when Jennifer Edgoose, M.D., M.P.H., put herself on a leadership track on the issue of health equity.
It was March 21, 2014, and Edgoose, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH) in Madison, was reading an email touting the new class of interns who had just matched to UW's family medicine residency program.
"They are all wonderful people who are now wonderful, practicing family physicians," Edgoose said.
But one characteristic of the 16-member class struck Edgoose, the daughter of Korean immigrants, as flawed.
They were all white.
"That caused me to pause, reflect and, ultimately, act," said Edgoose, who responded with an email to her entire department, questioning the lack of diversity in a group that would be asked to serve an increasingly diverse community.
Although the overall population of Madison is nearly 75 percent white, the demographics are changing. In fact, in the Madison Metropolitan School District, 57 percent of the students are members of minority populations.
"It sparked a fascinating conversation," Edgoose said of her email. "My chair called me a few days later and said, 'You are now in charge of addressing this.'"
Edgoose now chairs a committee in her department that's tasked with developing material and programming related to diversity, equity and inclusivity. From a resident recruiting standpoint, she said the program is taking steps to reduce implicit bias, including a reduced emphasis on board test scores and a standardized approach to interviews. She also directs a novel program at UWSMPH called the Diversity and Inclusion Advocate Program, which is trying to promote greater diversity in faculty recruitment and more intentional strides toward an inclusive climate across the medical school.
Edgoose's work at her own school led to national leadership roles related to health equity with the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) and Family Medicine for America's Health (FMAHealth). She was part of a team that developed an STFM toolkit for teaching about racism in health care last year. She now is leading the development of an FMAHealth curricular toolkit related to health equity that is expected to be published next year. She also has been a featured speaker on the subject at national events for the AAFP and STFM, as well as at the Starfield II: Health Equity Summit, an event that honored and advanced the legacy of renowned health policy researcher and primary care advocate Barbara Starfield, M.D., M.P.H. As a member of the STFM Foundation Board, Edgoose said she is proud to be part of the Underrepresented in Medicine campaign to promote development and scholarships for underrepresented minority faculty, residents and students.
"It's been an extremely steep and enormously rewarding learning curve for me, collaborating with people from around the country," said Edgoose, who grew up in largely white, rural communities in Indiana and West Virginia.
Edgoose began working with urban underserved populations during residency in Seattle and practiced at a federally qualified health center in Tacoma, Wash., for more than a decade before moving to Wisconsin.
"I fell in love with working with uninsured and underserved populations," she said. "When I found a second career in academia, I came with an interest in trying to promote that love of connecting with, caring for and learning from people in vulnerable communities and environments to future family physicians."