On This Page

    Health equity initiatives strive to eliminate health disparities, so that individuals can achieve their full health potential. Opportunities to improve people’s health stretch beyond a doctor’s office or hospital. These include addressing structural and social determinants of health: factors at play in people’s neighborhoods, churches, schools, and places of work, as well as decisions made by payers, in legislative settings, and beyond. Where to begin making a difference? An online graduate course in health equity, paired with lessons in innovation and implementation science, can provide evidence-based tools that help you create equitable and sustainable initiatives.

    Studying Health Equity at Penn

    Health disparities, both within the US and globally, could not be ignored during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some populations—such as racial and ethnic minorities, low-income groups, and incarcerated populations—faced greater structural risks for illness and fewer opportunities for health than others. Inequities included potential exposure to the virus due to working or living conditions, quality of treatment, and access to testing and vaccines.

    Health care innovation can begin to address disparities through, for example, inclusive design and evidence-based policy initiatives. And health care innovation can lead to greater access to the tools and resources needed for improved health outcomes. Across the Penn Master of Health Care Innovation curriculum, faculty examine health equity through many lenses, including:

    • AI and bias
    • clinical, organizational, and community settings

    • health economics

    • participatory and inclusive design

    • social determinants of health

    • value and quality initiatives

    • value-based payment

    In 2023 Penn launched Advancing Health Equity, an online graduate course in health equity required for all MHCI students. The course has attracted professionals from across health care, including:

    • physicians

    • nurse leaders

    • product managers

    • entrepreneurs

    • public health workers

    • health care quality and safety specialists

    • social workers

    • epidemiologists

    The Penn MHCI course Advancing Health Equity is grounded in research. Professors Kimberly T. Arnold, PhD, MPH and Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins, PhD are active researchers and collaborators. Prof. Arnold is recognized for her expertise in community engagement and mental health services. Prof. Jenkins is a sought-after partner for hospital associations and health care systems on how to infuse equity into clinical processes.

    Their course, Advancing Health Equity, explores the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in health care organizations, clinical spaces, and affected communities. This includes examining the opportunities and limitations of ADEI programs, and practice applying evidence-based tools for creating equitable and sustainable initiatives.

    In addition, course guests discuss:

    • Policy and social determinants of health. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, interviews Wendell Pritchett, JD, PhD, and Donald Schwarz, MD, MBA, about the impact that municipal initiatives in housing, public space, obesity, and transportation can have on health.

    • LGBTQ health. Caitlin B. Clancy, MD, MSHP lectures on clinical challenges facing LGBTQ patients and advocacy initiatives for their health.

    • The work of equity professionals. Prof. Jenkins interviews Aisha Rousseau, PhD, CRC, and LaRonda Chastang, MSW, about their roles in advancing equity.

    • Community-based mental health initiatives. In interviews with Prof. Arnold, Cameroon Lawson, Rev. Carolyn C. Cavaness, and David Eckert, MDiv, discuss advancing mental health equity through community partnerships.

    As a final project in this online graduate course in health equity, students create a persuasive deliverable to advocate for an ADEI initiative they can implement in their workplace. Students can use tools and frameworks, including implementation science, the referee framework, and the 7 As of Access, to improve health equity.

    Learn how to apply         

    Health Equity Topics
    • What is health equity?

    • Social determinants of health

    • Implementation science tools for health equity

    • Engaging stakeholders

    • Expanding access to health care

    • The influence of government policies on health

    • Advocacy

    • Equity in organizations

    • Equity in clinical settings

    • Equity in community settings

    For a deeper dive into stakeholder engagement and its connection to improving equity, read this short post and video.
    stakeholder engagement

    Applications of Health Equity Lessons

    Some students enter the Penn MHCI program with a keen interest in learning how to improve health equity in their clinical practice, startups, or administrative roles. Other students are less familiar with the needs and opportunities of health equity—yet felt prepared enough, after their coursework, to begin conversations with management about how and why their company could consider equity in their work.  

    Physician Miki Crane, MHCI ’24, thought she practiced as an "inclusive" clinician—until she took the Advancing Health Equity course. That’s where she learned a new language and science that provided a framework to approach health disparities.

    “Health care can be inward thinking,” she said, “perseverating on why a person's diabetes isn't improving despite a provider's best advice and medical prescriptions. We must open up the scope of view and get to what matters for the patient to make a difference in their health. Because of the rich, deep-dive educational experience of Advancing Health Equity, I've adjusted my practice of medicine to think more holistically and ensure each individual receives the best practices of care.”

    She also noted the impact of health equity as a topic throughout the Penn Master of Health Care Innovation curriculum. “When I review new companies or new technologies," she added, “I'm always thinking about how this can bridge the widening gap we have been the haves and have-nots in health care, and how we can bring all people along together with health care advances.”

    Joe Hinderstein, MHCI ’24, was looking to better understand equity challenges and successful implementation and evaluation strategies. Advancing Health Equity taught him how to achieve his goal. Hinderstein directly applied course knowledge through working with health systems to meet new state requirements around equitable access to care when submitting Certificate of Need applications. 

    “The course provided me with the tools and frameworks to understand how new service lines and sites of care impact already underserved populations,” he said. “By taking an assets-based approach and integrating the voices of community stakeholders from the beginning, healthcare organizations can make meaningful advancements in improving access and reducing inequities.”

    Mouli Chakravarty, MHCI ’24, Director of Consumer and Business Insights,  supports the enterprise initiative “Access to Care” for New York–Presbyterian, an integrated academic health care system with Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University. She conducts qualitative and quantitative research to reveal opportunities for operational enhancements, data transformation, and technological investments to improve the patient experience. She alchemizes pain points to actionable project metrics and interventions through workflow modification proposals and the exploration of emerging technologies—such as artificial intelligence—to enable more personalized, inclusive journeys.

    “I leverage various concepts and implementation science tools covered within the MHCI course Advancing Health Equity,” Mouli said. “They help me identify drivers of structural inequality, conduct customer journey mapping, and advocate for the needs of diverse populations.”

    Lisa George, MHCI ’24, works as a Quality and Patient Safety Improvement Advisor at a safety net hospital. She applies an equity lens to consolidation and mergers, and how they impact patients’ access to care. “Equity recognizes the person's circumstances,” she said, “and allocates resources and opportunities needed to help a person reach their full potential. Will patients have the means to travel if there are no longer specialists in their community? If not, is there a way to bring the care closer to them through tele-health or community resources and solutions?

    “Risk factors such as housing instability and food insecurity,” she said, “impact a patient's ability to stay healthy outside the walls of our clinics and hospitals. It is our responsibility as professionals to understand these vulnerabilities and change the narrative that has long blamed those who are affected.”  

    See who applies to our MHCI program

    Get Started on Your Master's Degree in Health Care Innovation

    If you are ready to improve health equity, shape health policy, and study emerging fields like behavioral economics, then apply to the Master of Health Care Innovation online degree program today.

    Learn how to apply