The Health Equity Scholars Program supports student leaders from the UCF College of Medicine Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences and Medical Education to examine health disparities across sociodemographic groups and explore how knowledge, attitudes, and practices in healthcare bear influence on disparities. Program participants will utilize these tools to cultivate a culture of humanism in medicine and empower others to create positive change for health equity.

Selected participants will be expected to

  • design and engage in a project, initiative or research effort that addresses health disparities or health equity.
  • identify a faculty advisor for the project, initiative or research effort.
  • compose a program manuscript or publishable article.
  • join membership on the Council for Diversity and Inclusion.

Selected proposals will receive a $1500 award to support student time and implementation efforts.  Priority will be given to fund projects, initiatives or research that are extra-curricular and not part of the student’s required academic scholarship (eg. FIRE or required academic program research).


2021 Award Winners


MEDS (Medical Enrichment for Diverse Students)

This program, in collaboration with ELEVATE Orlando, aims to offer mentorship to high school students who are interested in the medical field and come from an underrepresented background. We, along with physicians from the community, faculty, and other medical students, hope to give these high school students an informative view into the medical field and serve as resources for them to ask questions, set goals, and achieve those goals. We will be offering panels, field trips, and mentoring groups to give these students the tools they need for success.

Principal Investigators: Etta Conteh and Yamilet Gonzalez
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Tracy MacIntosh


SHIELD (Syringe exchange, Harm reduction, Infection Elimination Longitudinal Directives)

Orange County has had increasing incidences of blood-borne diseases and STIs for the past several years. Additionally, the opioid overdose and overdose mortality rate well-above the state and national averages. A Harm Reduction Program is a proven method of addressing these public health crises. One nascent program currently exists in Orange County. A partnership between UCF College of Medicine and the program’s sponsor, Hope and Help, would be a mutually beneficial relationship between medical students, Hope and Help, and the community. The proposed partnership would continue to propel UCF-COM along the forefront of medical education, public health care, and community benefit.

Principal Investigators: Richard Pack, Sabrina DeAlmeida, Nader Tabsh
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Tracy MacIntosh


The Unintentional Exclusionary Consequences of Neglecting Hair Preparation Practices in EEG Research

Developments in the EEG field help to inform our understanding of brain function and associated behavioral, cognitive, and executive processing. Impacts of this research have broad strokes in rehabilitation and healthcare, thereby being of great importance to public health. It is critical that diversity and inclusion of human subjects in EEG studies are prioritized by researchers in this field. In doing so, we ensure that the work we do and the technologies we development do not unintentionally exclude communities on the basis of racial identity. EEG, an electrophysiological device, is predicated on reliable contact between electrodes and the surface of the scalp. Unfortunately, the hardware is not designed with diversity of hair type in mind, most investigators who perform these studies are not educated on diverse hair types, and subjects are not adequately informed on the nuances of EEG and scalp contact and how hair style and type is a large factor in obtaining reliable signals from this device. These three factors may inherently lead to low subject enrollment of individuals with coarse, voluminous, and/or curly hair types, folks who are predominantly Black. This project, a collaboration with a Black hairstylist and two faculty from Nicholson School of Communications, will develop hair preparation guidelines and education for EEG researchers about recording quality signals from subjects with curly, coily, dense, or coarse hair, continue to collect survey data from both past and present EEG participants and researchers about their experiences, and apply our guidelines on compensated subjects and subsequently analyze the data for signal quality metrics. We hope that presenting both qualitative and quantitative findings will clearly define the sources of this bias and strongly support our argument for an inclusionary reform of EEG methods in future grant proposals. With long-term funding, we can formalize this research and develop standards for subject recruitment, preparation, and inclusion.

Principal Investigator: Lietsel Richardson
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Helen J. Huang


Standardizing the Medical Spanish Curriculum Using a Clinical Skills Focused Approach

According to national census data, the Hispanic/Latinx population accounted for a 51% increase in the U.S. population growth between 2010-2020. More specifically, three states (California, Texas, and Florida) accounted for a majority of these numbers and represent around 55% of the total population in the country. These data support projections of the Hispanic/Latinx population representing the second largest racial and ethnic group in the U.S. by 2050. Additionally, the U.S. is ranked second in the world for Spanish-speakers, with the Spanish language being the most common non-English language spoken. Despite these results, the Hispanic/Latinx population remains an underserved and underrepresented group in healthcare. This creates significant barriers to healthcare, including increased healthcare spending, poorer health outcomes, longer hospital stays, and delayed treatment. A proposed solution has been to increase the availability of medical interpreters in healthcare settings to address language discordance. However, there has been limited consensus on how to deliver a standardized medical Spanish curriculum during pre-clinical years. More so, implementation of these curricula are often elective, student-led initiatives that are hindered by limited schedule availability, financial constraints, and unequal language proficiency across participants. This research project aims to incorporate the recommendations created by a multidisciplinary expert panel to design a clinical skills focused syllabus. This focused curriculum is intended to improve language fluency and sociocultural knowledge in the context of facilitating improved patient-centered communication during physical exams regardless of initial proficiency levels. The rationale for this approach is to provide more opportunities for non-native Spanish speakers to engage in the curriculum that aligns with concurrent clinical skills themes in the formal curriculum. Our hypothesis is that focusing medical Spanish in the context of providing and explaining clinical skills instructions is a more manageable workload for students. The interactive nature of performing physical exams in Spanish would reinforce language acquisition given the numerous opportunities for application. The primary goal is to develop organ system-focused educational modules using the UCF COM Practice of Medicine curriculum as a guide to deliver high-yield learning objectives. This is a pilot program at UCF COM and will act as a template for delivering a standardized curriculum at other institutions. These modules will be available on Webcourses for self-guided review and will be pre-assigned based on upcoming in-person review sessions. Secondly, students will participate in faculty or professional interpreter led physical exam workshops to reinforce patient-centered communication skills. Student performance will be assessed through written examinations on overall vocabulary knowledge and recognition, as well as clinical-skills performance metrics with standardized patients. Lastly, our goal is to focus on creating validated forms of post-curriculum assessment to facilitate quality improvement efforts in developing successful medical Spanish programs.

Principal Investigators: Yamilet Gonzalez, Kailee Hernandez, Thomas Knapp, Carolyn Rapp
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Analia Castiglioni


The Impact of Medical Interpreting Credentials on Medical Student Clinical Engagement with Spanish-speaking Patients

Background: In 2021, it was reported that over 40 million people in the United States (US) speak Spanish as their primary language. Projections indicate that by 2050, the US will be home to approximately 130 million Spanish speakers–making the US the largest Spanish speaking population in the world. In Florida, over 20% of the population speaks Spanish. At UCF COM, the student body serves the local community through multiple student-run clinics, including the Apopka Farmworkers Clinic and the KNIGHTS clinic. We provide interdisciplinary services for patients without access to health insurance, including primary care, physical therapy, pharmacy, social work, and patient education. The populations that we serve include a large population of migrant farmworkers who are Limited English proficient (LEP) and are primarily Spanish speakers. Given that our patients are predominantly Spanish speaking we would like to provide them the most effective communication possible. The current state of the system: While the need for Spanish-speaking providers is rising dramatically, the medical education system has never established a standardized curriculum or training for medical students who are motivated to incorporate Spanish into their practice. In March 2021, Canopy Innovations piloted a commercial launch of Canopy Credentials, the first NIH funded language proficiency assessment. Through our connections with Canopy at UCF COM, we were able to have a pilot group of 10 students take the exam to receive a bilingual proficiency assessment. Students receive detailed analysis and a score on the CanopyScale that can be easily aligned with other globally recognized scales (CEFR, ILR, ACFL). Since taking the exam, credentialed students have served as interpreters in multiple student-run clinics both virtually and in-person. We have a growing list of students interested in taking the exam. Summary of project with goals and implications: Through this opportunity, we will expand our pool of interpreters who are certified through CanopyCredentials. We will be able to provide students with a nationally recognized certification that they can use to better serve patients throughout their medical education and career. We also aim to demonstrate the positive impact of medical interpreting credentialing on community service engagement. We have many bilingual students and faculty who volunteer at our student-run clinics, and we try to ensure that at least one member of the medical team speaks the same primary language as the patient. In low-resource settings where professional interpreters may not be available, it is invaluable to have students who have been qualified through a standardized test to serve as interpreters. The primary goal of this project is to quantify the number of students who have already received credentials, those who plan to receive credentials, and the number of bilingual encounters in both the Apopka Farmworkers Clinic and the KNIGHTS clinic. Our ultimate goal for the project is to assess the encounters of credentialed students compared to those who are not credentialed. In this future direction, we would utilize a validated tool to measure patient satisfaction with the bilingual encounters, as well as self-evaluation tools for student interpreters, and evaluation tools for physicians that are similar to the Practice of Medicine curriculum at UCF COM. If this project leads to positive results, it could serve as a model for other medical and health professional schools with students who serve LEP patient populations.

Principal Investigators: Yamilet Gonzalez, Kailee Hernandez, Thomas Knapp, Carolyn Rapp
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Analia Castiglioni