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Symposium offers new ways to overcome health disparities

Jun. 14, 2023, 4:19 PM


by Bill Snyder

Ideas for addressing the disproportionate impact of cancer, diabetes, and gastrointestinal diseases on disadvantaged populations were shared June 9 during a diversity symposium at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Lori Coburn, MD, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, organized the daylong event, part of the Vanderbilt Digestive Diseases Research Center (VDDRC) enrichment program supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Hosted in partnership with Meharry Medical College, the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Gastrointestinal Specialized Program of Research Excellence and the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center, the symposium offered innovative approaches for overcoming intractable health challenges.

“We need to adjust the way we think about these problems,” said Richard Peek Jr., MD, VDDRC director, chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

Keynote talks were given by:

  • Patricia Jones, MD, associate professor of Medicine, Digestive Health and Liver Diseases at the University of Miami, on disparities in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) outcomes; and
  • Monica Peek, MD, MPH, the Ellen H. Block Professor for Health Justice of Medicine, and associate director of the Chicago Center for Diabetes Translational Medicine at the University of Chicago, on understanding and identifying the effects on health equity of social determinants of health.

Ebele Umeukeje, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension, described the importance of clinicians working with patients to overcome barriers to medication adherence.

Ashley Spann, MD, MSACI, an advanced fellow in hepatology at VUMC, discussed informatics-based innovations in the care of chronic liver disease, while Audrey Bennett, MD, an advanced fellow in inflammatory bowel disease, enumerated socioeconomic barriers impacting IBD care in transgender individuals.

Other speakers explored ways to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in residency, fellowship and post-doctoral programs.

Established in 2002, the VDDRC, one of 14 such centers in the country, is in its fourth consecutive round of NIH funding.

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