Dr. Ronit Elk to Address Health Equity in Palliative Care

Respected Researcher, Educator and Clinician will present at the 2022 National Symposium for Academic Palliative Care Education and Research

Ronit Elk, PhD, is a professor in the School of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and associate director of the Southeast Institute for Innovation in Palliative and Supportive Care. Her prior position was at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Using Community-Based Participatory Research approaches, her NIH-funded research focuses on partnering with underserved populations. In particular, her work in rural African American communities helps to determine effective, culturally based palliative care programs.

Dr. Elk will present:

Developing Culturally Concordant and Racism-Free Palliative Care Programs for African American Patients: Created by the Community for the Community

Dr. Elk will address the issue of health equity and the impact of community-engaged partnership with communities to help overcome health disparities. Having a lens to understand what is not equal and being informed by the community we seek to help are the first steps to make palliative care in healthcare more equal. Our times have created a call to action—with the need to respond and reach communities to share their voice. It is a point of hope that such work will change healthcare. Dr. Elk shares, “The solution is to listen to the voice of the community. Palliative care people are the perfect people to listen, as they are the kindest, most compassionate who look inside themselves with self-insight.”

Her presentation will bring understanding to the importance of culture and why it is relevant in providing palliative care that is equitable. “Culture profoundly shapes how people make meaning of their illness, suffering, and dying, and strongly influences their responses to diagnosis, illness, and their preferences for treatment.” However, “end-of-life care is rooted in White, middle-class values. Faith, hope, and belief in God’s healing power are central to most African Americans, yet life-preserving care is considered ‘aggressive’ by the healthcare system, and families may feel pressured to cease it.” Her experience with Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), which is a social justice approach, involves a collaborative partnership between community members and academia. The goal is to find solutions to an unjust problem. Attendees will learn how to develop culturally concordant, racist-free palliative care.

Her first academic appointment was at the University of Texas in Houston, where she was NIH-funded to explore effective interventions for “hard to reach” populations. She served as guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine on “Palliative and End-of-Life Care for African Americans.”  In addition to serving on several NIH Peer Review Committees for over 8 years, Dr. Elk directed the first extramural Cancer Control and Prevention Research at the American Cancer Society from 2001‒2011; this included establishing a nationally recognized cancer health disparities program, and forming a partnership with the National Palliative Care Research Center to establish the first palliative care research funding program in the US

Dr. Elk embodies her own multiculturalism: She was born in Israel but spent her early life moving from country to country, as her father was Israeli Ambassador to Turkey, India, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. She immigrated to the US over 30 years ago, but maintains her global perspectives.

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