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“Of all of the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane”   -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

SUNY Downstate is committed to improving health outcomes, reducing health inequities, and impacting the lives of people who reside in the borough of Brooklyn. Of the 2.6 million residents in Brooklyn over 50% are from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds and approximately 50% are immigrants. This brings the unique opportunity to connect with community partners and provide care for a large immigrant and culturally rich population. As the only academic medical center in Brooklyn, SUNY Downstate is uniquely positioned to make a difference.
The Health Equity Advocacy and Leadership Pathway (HEAL) is designed for students who are passionate about tackling social determinants of health, addressing health inequities, eliminating social injustices, and reducing disparities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social determinants of health are the complex, integrated, and overlapping social structures and economic systems that contribute to health disparities. Social determinants of health are shaped by the inequitable distribution of money, power, and resources throughout local communities and nationally. There is a need to develop future physicians who are socially aware and who want to be agents of change in the community.
The mission of HEAL is to increase the number of physicians who are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and tools that are needed in order to effectively address social determinants of health. Students in HEAL will develop skills that will enable them to create innovative, community-driven and evidence-based solutions to health disparities through collaborative community partnerships.


→Empower medical students to be more socially aware and to understand the consequences of inequities on health outcomes
→Enable students to identify and intervene on social determinants through outreach, research, policy, and clinical initiatives
→Equip physicians to be advocates for their patients and leaders in their communities
→Foster community-academic partnerships and enhance community capacity for change

Pathway Components

Journal clubs: Students have an opportunity to discuss in ‘world cafe’ style forums how factors such as food insecurity, access to care, violence, health literacy, discrimination, and stress contribute to poor health outcomes.
Community engagement and service learning activities: Students apply principles of community engagement to developing community-academic partnerships
Research and scholarship: Students work with faculty in the College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, School of Public Health, College of Health Related Professions, School of Graduate Studies, and the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center to develop scholarly projects.


The HEAL pathway was developed by 2 second-year medical students, Rebeka (Begum) Ahmed and Alexandra Diggs with assistance from Dr. Christopher Roman, an associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology. In 2017, we enrolled 25 students in HEAL.