An international dialogue about equal opportunity
To reduce disparities in health, we desperately need professionals who know how to make a difference. How do you train students for that? HAN is working with European partners on this issue in the HEQED project.
“It’s easy to say: everyone has the right to live a healthy life and to function from a position of equality,” says Joost van Wijchen, senior lecturer in Physiotherapy & Health at HAN. “But reducing health disparities (the HAN-wide focus on Fair Health, ed.) is a complex issue with an awful lot of layers. Finding a good solution for that is not something you do in a hurry.” The Erasmus+ project HEQED (Health Equity through Education for a Sustainable Society) is helping to put the issue on the map and highlight it from multiple angles. The project brings together researchers, lecturers, learning & development specialists, healthcare professionals and students from different European universities and universities of applied sciences. Joost: “We’re working together toward a unified meaning of health equity and developing a framework to create equal health opportunities for all through education.”
Joost and his colleague Maria Nordheim Alme (Bergen University of Applied Sciences) have just returned from an international meeting in Zaragoza where they formulated 10 intentions with the project group. Intentions such as: developing tools to spread the topic of health equity more widely. Or integrating health equity into the entire curriculum. “An important point we established together is that health equity is not a static concept,” says Maria. “By that we mean to say: it’s not a goal you can just achieve and then be ‘done’ with. Health equity as a concept is constantly evolving. We’re mainly trying to get a handle on the influencing factors. And in what ways you can look at it.”
Another intention they formulated together in Spain is: “Have the lens of health equity in our everyday lives”. Joost: “That’s what is so valuable about international cooperation, all those different ‘lenses’. There is a risk of approaching health equity from your own context. At HAN too, we’re ultimately in our Dutch bubble; we don't see what we don't know. You need others to help you get out of your own equity chamber and open your gaze completely. What are the health and legal systems in our neighboring countries like? And what is meant by health in Spain, Norway or Finland, for example? Then you see that cultural conceptions of what constitutes illness or health are quite different.”
From abstract to concrete
Meanwhile, what do they do when they meet? Maria: “We explore each other's worlds, ask questions, have discussions, analyze the literature, hold workshops. This is how we map out all the relevant factors that come into play with health equity. And how you yourself as an educator, lecturer, student or professional can work with it.”
Meike Geurtsen – 3rd-year physiotherapy student at HAN – participated in the meeting in Zaragoza. There she worked in groups to explore what health equity means, how you can apply it in your studies or professional field and how the curriculum can be shaped very differently. “I’ve discovered that health equity is an abstract and complex issue that you can't simply incorporate into education, let alone solve. At the same time, you can make it very concrete for yourself. Now, during my internship, I am much more aware of my assumptions. I try to see the other person's perspective and ask more questions. And if I get the opportunity to contribute a case study in class, I will choose precisely a client who is further from my personal experience. It's important to have variety.”
Are experts by experience also part of HEQED? “At this stage, not yet,” says Joost. “With all the differences in titles, professions and hierarchies of the participating countries, we didn't see any opportunities for that right now. But we’re actively discussing it. Also, we aren’t waiting for a consensus before we share our knowledge and experiences. On HEQED Home (an open platform, ed.), we’ve made a conscious choice to deliver an unfinished product in the spring of 2023. A platform set up to be as open and user-friendly as possible. There you’ll find learning materials, learning experiences, conversation starters, examples and experiences of lecturers who’ve been working for some time to incorporate health equity into their teaching. Everything that’s needed to start the dialogue, raise awareness and work together towards health equity.”
The following partners are participating in the HEQED project alongside HAN University of Applied Sciences: Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL, Norway); University of Zaragoza (Unizar, Spain); Arcada University of Applied Sciences (Finland); NGO Handicap International - Humanity & Inclusion. You can find more information on this project page.