Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Storytelling and Concepts

In 2019, the AMA established the Center for Health Equity to embed and advance equity in all aspects of health care, including within the AMA itself.

Building on the work of the Center, the AMA has developed, in partnership with the Center for Health Justice of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), one of the most comprehensive health equity communication guides to support doctors’ conversations with patients.

Designed for doctors and other healthcare professionals, the Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Storytelling and Concepts provides guidance and promotes a better understanding of equity-focused and person-centred language and why it is important.

As science, language and understanding evolve over time, and this guide is not intended to be a definitive and comprehensive instruction manual. Instead, it was created to provide a new perspective on the language we commonly use and to acknowledge the harmful effects of dominant narratives in medicine.

A better understanding of dominant language and narratives can help ensure that we effectively center care on the lived experience of patients and communities without reinforcing labels, objectification, stigma and marginalization.

The guide is made up of three key elements to guide physicians and healthcare professionals. They understand:

This section of the guide aims to help the reader recognize the limitations and harmful consequences of some commonly used words and expressions. Instead, we offer equity-focused alternatives.

dominant narratives (also called clever narratives), particularly those about “race”, individualism and meritocracy, as well as the narratives surrounding medicine itself, limit our understanding of the root causes of health inequalities. Dominant narratives create harm, undermine public health and the promotion of health equity; they must be named, disturbed and corrected.

The glossary provides an overview of key terms and concepts frequently used in discussions of health equity. It is by no means exhaustive, nor a definitive list of correct/incorrect answers. Rather, it is intended to serve as a starting point for reflection. This is a guide to current usage of important terms and will be updated over time. Wherever possible, we cite authoritative sources and introduce ongoing debates about definitions.

Prioritize equity videos

Critical race theory and intersectionality: A discussion of the history of critical race theory and its applications to the field of medicine as well as health equity. Originally defined by jurists in the 1980s, critical race theory has since evolved as a way of examining the structures and histories responsible for racism in the United States. Critical race theory, as a practice, enables health professionals to confront and dismantle racial injustice and is therefore essential to the pursuit of health equity.

The root cause: Panelists discuss acknowledging racism as the root and root cause of health inequities, and distinguishing between short-term and long-term implications on health care and public health systems,

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