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Blog / Addressing Health Disparities A Key Focus Of The MCAT And Future Physicians

Addressing Health Disparities: A Key Focus of the MCAT and Future Physicians

Written by Seza on Aug 14, 2023

Addressing Health Disparities: A Key Focus of the MCAT and Future Physicians

The differences in health outcomes between different populations are called health disparities. Nowadays, health disparities are a pressing issue in healthcare. Medical education and practice recognize the importance of addressing these disparities and the need for future physicians to be well-equipped in this area. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a crucial step in the medical school admissions process, has, directly and indirectly, incorporated health disparities as a key topic. In this article, we will explore the significance of addressing health disparities, the MCAT’s focus on this subject, and the role of future physicians in reducing these inequities.

What Are Health Disparities?

As mentioned earlier, health disparities are the differences in health outcomes or access to healthcare between different populations. Social, economic, and environmental factors often influence health disparities. They can occur based on various characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, geographic location, and disability.

Health disparities manifest in various ways, including disparities in:

  • Health outcomes: 

In comparison to others, certain populations may experience higher rates of illness, disability, or mortality. This could be a result of limited access to quality healthcare, environmental exposures, or social determinants of health.

  • Healthcare access:

factors such as inadequate insurance coverage, transportation barriers, lack of healthcare facilities in certain areas, or cultural and linguistic barriers are factors that can result in disparities in access to healthcare services. They often impede communication and understanding between patients and healthcare providers.

  • Quality of care: 

Different populations can receive different qualities of healthcare, and disparities can arise in these situations. This can be influenced by biases or discrimination in healthcare settings, unequal distribution of resources, or variations in healthcare provider training and practices.

  • Preventive care and screenings: 

Disparities can manifest in the use of preventive services, such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, and health education. Some populations may have difficulties accessing these services, leading to disparities in early detection and prevention of diseases.

  • Health behaviors: 

Disparities may also show in differences in health behaviors, including diet, physical activity, tobacco use, and substance abuse. Variations in health behaviors among different populations can be influenced by socioeconomic factors, cultural norms, and environmental influences.


What role does the MCAT play in preparing future physicians to address health disparities?

By integrating the health disparities topic into the content of the test, the MCAT plays a crucial role in addressing the issue and assessing the knowledge and understanding of future physicians in this area. The significance of this issue in healthcare and the importance of preparing future physicians to address these disparities effectively is emphasized by its inclusion in the MCAT exam.

The MCAT assesses knowledge and understanding of health disparities through different sections and questions. It covers foundational concepts relevant to health disparities, such as social determinants of health, healthcare access, cultural competency, and the impact of disparities on population health. This is a way to make sure that aspiring physicians understand the factors contributing to health disparities and their implications for patient care.

Additionally, the MCAT includes application-based questions presenting real-world health disparities scenarios. These questions assess an applicant’s ability to apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills to address and reduce health disparities in clinical practice. By incorporating these questions, the MCAT evaluates a candidate’s preparedness to recognize and respond to health disparities in their future roles as physicians.

The MCAT’s emphasis on health disparities is essential for several reasons:

  • Providing equitable care: 

Physicians who understand how health disparities manifest are better equipped to provide proper, patient-centered care to diverse populations. They can recognize the unique needs of marginalized communities and challenge and adapt their care accordingly.

  • Advocacy and policy development:

Knowledge of health disparities equips future physicians to advocate for changes that reduce health inequities. They can reform healthcare systems and address the underlying social, economic, and environmental factors contributing to disparities.

  • Addressing social determinants of health: 

Health disparities are deeply intertwined with social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status, education, housing, and access to resources. Future physicians who are well-versed in health disparities can understand and address these social determinants to improve health outcomes and promote health equity.


How does the MCAT assess understanding of health disparities?

The MCAT evaluates an applicant’s understanding of health disparities through various sections of the exam. The MCAT does not have a dedicated section solely focused on health disparities, but it evaluates this understanding in a comprehensive manner. Here’s how the MCAT assesses understanding of health disparities:

  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc) Section: 

This section of the test includes questions related to health disparities, social determinants of health, cultural influences on healthcare, and healthcare disparities. Applicants are assessed on their knowledge of how factors such as socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, access to healthcare, and discrimination impact health outcomes and contribute to health disparities.

  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) Section: 

The CARS section evaluates an applicant’s ability to critically analyze and interpret passages on a wide range of topics, including social issues and inequalities. Although not directly focused on health disparities, some passages may indirectly touch upon health disparities, requiring test-takers to apply their critical thinking skills to understand the nuances and implications.

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Biochem) Section: 

This section may indirectly relate to health disparities by exploring topics such as genetics, population health, and healthcare access. It may include passages or questions that highlight disparities in disease prevalence, genetic predispositions, or healthcare interventions. Applicants are assessed on their understanding of how disparities can arise in healthcare and biological contexts.

  • Physical and Chemical Foundations of Biological Systems (Phys/Chem) Section: 

Some passages or questions may touch upon disparities in medical technologies, healthcare infrastructure, or access to resources, even though the primary focus of this section is on basic physical and chemical principles related to biological systems. Applicants are evaluated on their ability to apply scientific concepts to understand the impact of disparities on healthcare outcomes.

Read More about MCAT and health disparities.

Studying for the MCAT is never easy, which is why we at Jack Westin have developed some of the most comprehensive and affordable MCAT prep options. From our complete MCAT Courses to our FREE Weekly Live Sessions, we help students navigate the MCAT from start to finish. Make sure to check out our blog for more MCAT-related content. 


How Are Health Disparities Integrated into Medical Education?

Health disparities are integrated into medical education to ensure that future physicians are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and perspectives needed to address these inequities. Here are some ways in which health disparities are integrated into medical education:

  • Curricular Integration: 

Medical schools incorporate health disparities into their curricula, ensuring that students learn about the social determinants of health, cultural competence, and the impact of disparities on healthcare outcomes. This integration spans across multiple disciplines, including public health, sociology, ethics, and clinical medicine.

  • Dedicated Courses or Modules: 

Some medical schools offer dedicated courses or modules focused specifically on health disparities. These courses explore the causes and consequences of disparities, strategies for reducing inequities, and ways to address social determinants of health. They provide a comprehensive understanding of the complex issues surrounding health disparities.

  • Clinical Training: 

Clinical training provides opportunities for students to work directly with diverse patient populations and understand the challenges they face. Medical schools aim to expose students to clinical settings that serve underserved or marginalized communities, allowing them to witness firsthand the impact of health disparities on patient care.

  • Community Engagements and Service-Learning: 

Medical schools encourage students to engage with local communities and participate in service-learning activities. These experiences provide opportunities to understand the social, economic, and cultural factors contributing to health disparities. Students may collaborate with community organizations, conduct health screenings, or participate in health education initiatives.

  • Research and Scholarly Activities: 

Medical schools promote research and scholarly activities that focus on health disparities. This includes conducting studies on disparities, analyzing healthcare data, and evaluating interventions aimed at reducing inequities. Research opportunities allow students to contribute to the evidence base and develop a deeper understanding of the complex issues surrounding health disparities.

  • Interprofessional Education: 

Medical education increasingly emphasizes interprofessional collaboration to address health disparities. Students learn to work effectively with professionals from other healthcare disciplines, such as nursing, social work, and public health. This collaboration enhances their ability to provide comprehensive, patient-centered care and address the multifaceted factors contributing to health disparities.

  • Cultural Competence Training: 

Medical education emphasizes the development of cultural competence skills. Students learn to provide culturally sensitive care, communicate effectively with diverse patients, and understand the impact of cultural beliefs on health-seeking behaviors. Cultural competence training is crucial for addressing health disparities and reducing healthcare inequities.

  • Leadership and Advocacy Development: 

Medical schools promote leadership skills and advocacy development among students. They encourage students to advocate for policies and initiatives aimed at reducing health disparities. Students learn to use their voices to address systemic issues contributing to inequities and promote health equity for all.


Why Is Addressing Health Disparities Important for Future Physicians?

Addressing health disparities is crucial for future physicians for several reasons:

  • Equity in Healthcare: 

As healthcare providers, future physicians are responsible for ensuring equitable access to healthcare for all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or other factors. Addressing health disparities is essential to promote fairness and justice in healthcare, ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve optimal health outcomes.

  • Patient-Centered Care: 

Understanding and addressing health disparities is essential for providing patient-centered care. Patients from marginalized or disadvantaged communities often face unique challenges and barriers to healthcare. Future physicians who are knowledgeable about health disparities can tailor their care to meet the specific needs of these populations, taking into account cultural, social, and economic factors that may impact health outcomes.

  • Improved Health Outcomes: 

Future physicians can contribute to improving health outcomes for marginalized populations by addressing health disparities. Disparities in healthcare access and quality contribute to increased rates of illness, disability, and premature death among disadvantaged communities. By addressing the root causes of health disparities and providing targeted interventions, physicians can help bridge the gap and improve health outcomes for all patients.

  • Cultural Competence: 

Cultural beliefs, practices, and norms often influence health disparities. Future physicians who understand and appreciate the cultural diversity of their patient populations are better equipped to provide culturally competent care. Cultural competence enhances communication, trust, and collaboration between physicians and patients, leading to better health outcomes and patient satisfaction.

  • Health System Improvement: 

Addressing health disparities requires systemic change within healthcare systems. Future physicians who are knowledgeable about health disparities can contribute to policy advocacy, healthcare reform, and quality improvement initiatives aimed at reducing inequities. They can advocate for changes that address social determinants of health, promote health equity, and ensure that healthcare systems are responsive to the needs of all individuals.

  • Ethical Responsibility: 

Physicians have an ethical responsibility to promote the well-being and health of their patients. This includes addressing the underlying causes of health disparities and advocating for equitable healthcare. By actively working to reduce health disparities, future physicians fulfill their ethical duty to provide just and equitable care.

  • Professional Development: 

Addressing health disparities is an integral part of professional development for future physicians. It expands their understanding of the social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to health inequities. This knowledge enhances their ability to critically analyze healthcare systems, conduct research, and develop innovative solutions to reduce disparities.



Addressing health disparities is a critical focus in medical education, and the MCAT plays a vital role in preparing future physicians to tackle these challenges. By understanding health disparities, studying the relevant material, and integrating this knowledge into their practice, physicians can work towards reducing health inequities and advancing health for all. Through advocacy, patient-centered care, and active engagement in research and community initiatives, future physicians have the power to make a tangible difference in addressing health disparities and promoting health equity. Medical schools, aspiring physicians, and the entire healthcare system must prioritize this important work and ensure equitable and accessible healthcare for all populations.

You can always contact Jack Westin’s team of academic consultants for more tailor-made advice during your MCAT prep journey. Make sure to check out our website for affordable MCAT online courses, tutoring options, free weekly sessions, practice questions, and more!

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