Organizational Trainings Can Increase Knowledge and Engagement with Health Equity Work in Cancer 

The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) efforts to build capacity to address cancer disparities are bolstered by staff health equity-related trainings and engagements.  

Background 

Health equity is an increasingly important focus for health organizations interested in making an impact on health disparities. Despite significant progress, cancer continues to have a disproportionate impact on specific populations, with cancer disparities across race, ethnicity, and geography among other demographic and socioeconomic factors. The American Cancer Society (ACS), alongside its nonpartisan advocacy affiliate the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), has a vision to end cancer as we know it, for everyone. ACS is improving the lives of people and their families through advocacy, research, and patient support, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to prevent, detect, treat, and survive cancer. To support this vision, ACS engaged in a 3-year initiative to make health equity a shared value by building capacity and increasing awareness of health equity and the social determinants of health in cancer care. A critical component of this initiative is widespread organizational trainings aimed at increasing ACS/ACS CAN staff’s knowledge and awareness of the importance of health equity to their daily work.  

Major findings 

To understand the impact of ACS health equity initiative, researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago conducted an evaluation study. The evaluation of this initiative revealed that staff engagement with health equity trainings, delivered in the form of webinars, day-long trainings and train the trainer models, is associated with greater health equity knowledge, stronger personal beliefs about health equity and higher levels of engagement in health equity work: 

  • Almost all (98%) of the participants who engaged in health equity trainings correctly identified health equity and social determinants of health terms compared to 79% of those who did not participate. 
  • Staff who did not participate were more likely to report that they have heard of health equity and social determinants and are fairly clear on what both terms mean. However, staff who participated in training report, on average, that they understand health equity and social determinants of health and many partner with others through their work at ACS/ACS CAN. 
  • 9 in ten (89%) of staff who participated in training felt “more motivated to act to advance health equity as a result of their exposure to ACS and ACS CAN HE resources and training.” 

Further, results over time from baseline (year 1) to follow up (year 3) suggest that this initiative has had organization-wide effects, as shown by increases in knowledge of health equity terms and reported engagement with health equity and social determinants across all staff.  

Why this is important  

These findings suggest that efforts to make health equity a strategic priority that include training and awareness initiatives for staff can be effective at increasing health equity knowledge, strengthening personal beliefs about the importance of health equity, and motivating staff to act or engage in health equity work. Organizations with a mission focused on reducing health disparities and supporting the equitable delivery of health care can look to ACS’ initiative as an example of an effective approach. To be truly effective at moving staff from knowledge and awareness to action, future health equity trainings should include tangible actions for staff to model in their daily work or provide opportunities for trained staff to serve as mentors or advisors to those who are relatively new to health equity work. This initiative has been extended beyond year 3 and is currently focused on equipping staff with the language, skills, and tools necessary to make an impact on cancer disparities.  

As we continue to create a more just society with equitable health outcomes, we all have a role to play. Organizations like ACS and others can do their part in creating a workforce that is more knowledgeable and feels confident in taking action to advance health equity. It will take all of us to ensure that everyone has the best chance at cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and survivorship regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background.  

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Lucy Rabinowitz Bailey, MPH, is a Research Scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago. She is a seasoned public health researcher and evaluator with more than 8 years of experience designing and conducting research projects on mental health and health equity. She currently leads the evaluation of the American Cancer Society’s Health Equity Initiative. She is passionate about finding interdisciplinary approaches to combat health inequities through evidence-based, innovative models of care. She has led projects for health systems, community-based organizations, national non-profits, state agencies and federal offices to inform program and policy development to increase access and delivery of equitable care. She earned a Masters of Public Health in Behavioral Science and Health Education from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Public Health in Health Equity and Social Justice from Johns Hopkins University so she can continue to support the delivery of better health care experiences and outcomes for diverse populations. Her interests outside of work include reading, journaling, taking walks with her dog and watching old episodes of Parks and Recreation.

Tracy Wiedt is the Managing Director for Health Equity at the American Cancer Society. She oversees ACS’s work aimed at enabling the organization and communities to end cancer as we know it, for everyone by addressing underlying drivers of poor health and helping to ensure everyone has a fair and just opportunity to live a longer, healthier life free from cancer. Prior to 2016, Tracy was Project Director for the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties initiative at the National League of Cities (working with First Lady Michelle Obama) and was Director of the Healthy Communities program at YMCA of the USA, engaging hundreds of communities in making policy, systems, and environmental changes. She has governmental experience too. Tracy worked at the CDC on policies and partnership associated with chronic disease and injury prevention and control and was a Brookings Institute LEGIS Fellow working for the U.S. Senate Health Subcommittee on health legislation.

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