Health equity is defined as “attainment of the highest level of health for all people” (DHHS, 2011). The inference is that everyone has a fair opportunity to live a long, healthy life; and that health should not be compromised or disadvantaged because of an individual or group’s race, ethnicity, gender, income, sexual orientation, neighborhood or other social condition. Health equity is assurance of the conditions for optimal health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing all individuals and populations equally, recognizing and rectifying historical injustices, and providing resources according to need.  Health disparities will be eliminated when health equity is achieved.  

In the Institute of Medicine’s landmark report titled The Future of Public Health (IOM, 1988) one major issue indicated was that “the need for leaders is too great to leave their emergence to chance.”  Also, I contend that principles espoused in the book, Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility and Community (Flucker, 2009) are essential to progressive and innovative approaches to build healthier communities. It is critical that leaders adopt leadership principles inclusive of: 1) insight-the importance of self-awareness, personal biases, and having empathy for others circumstances, 2) integrity- ethical governance and developing congruence between one’s own values and one’s actions, 3) synergy-learning the ability to work cooperatively and effectively with others in ways that empower individuals to use their gifts and make contributions that can benefit all parties, 4) sharing the “commitment to action”-developing the motivation to translate knowledge into action, foster buy-in and support, and to become actively involved in individual and collaborative efforts to foster personal and social change, 5) impact-promoting positive civic engagement and social responsibility through an ethic of service and a concern for justice.  In part, it will require focused training in these domains for diverse professionals and community advocates to advance health equity.

According to a first-ever study of U.S. medical schools, in the area of social mission, MSM ranks #1 in the nation (Mullan, 2010). In 2016, MSM received the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Award for Institutional Excellence in Social Mission. In order to truly promote community health and responsibility an ethical leadership model must be employed. Focused initiatives may be achieved as we continue to transform the science of ethical decision-making and discovery in research, health promotion, and practice. Health professionals, practitioners, research scientists, policymakers, community leaders, and individual consumers collectively have unique roles as thought leaders in the design, implementation, and evaluation of innovative strategies to promote community health and advance health equity.  This can best be attained with integrity-based leadership approaches; and we must help to develop effective training strategies that are centered on ethical and strengths-based leadership concepts. Moreover, ethical leadership for community health promotion is an integral part of addressing health inequities, particularly concerning the distribution of resources through health education, creating a workforce of persons that target underserved communities, increasing awareness about the role of selected social determinants of health, and working collaboratively to enhance trust with various communities.

A meaningful conceptual model of leadership development should be based on the values and principles of an organization. The model should engender primary constructs that are central to the organizational culture; and promulgated through the actions of its leaders. For example, within the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at MSM, significant values (e.g., integrity, consensus building, trustworthiness, and diversity) support operational processes and a commitment to excellence by faculty & staff for the implementation of community based projects, innovative research, various educational efforts, and health advocacy initiatives.

Identifying and building on the strengths of a team/organization member is critical to the success of any model of leadership development. In particular, utilizing a framework of strengths-based constructs is important, and may include strategies to empower others for improvement in the following selected content areas:

  • Competence
  • Tolerance of Stressful Situations
  • An Orientation/Openness for Positive Changes
  • Effective Conflict Resolution
  • Purposeful Assertiveness
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Resilience

We have a moral and civic responsibility for the development of ethical strengths-based leaders; who have a commitment to strive for remarkable outcomes, build multi-disciplinary teams that achieve successes, offer mentoring to junior professionals, engender credibility and genuinely care about the communities that they serve. This may be achieved by building trust, promoting transparency, requiring accountability, and demonstrating collaboration.  

The Best Way to Find Yourself is to Lose Yourself in the Service of Others

~Mahatma Ghandi~


Works Cited

  • Fluker, W. E. (2009). Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility, and Community. Augsburg Fortress.
  • Mullan F, Chen C, Petterson S, Kolsky G, Spagnola M (2010). The social mission of medical education: ranking the schools. Annals of Internal Medicine, 152, 804-811.
  • Institute of Medicine (1988). The Future of Public Health. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2011).  Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities: A Nation Free of Disparities in Health and Health Care. Washington, DC.