The CDC states that "Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”  (

A growing, critical, and specific body of knowledge elucidates the complex underpinnings of health equity, which include both upstream and downstream factors. Socioeconomic (upstream) factors are shaped by the structures, systems, environments, politics, policies, and distribution of money, power, and resources at global, national, and local levels. Individual (downstream) factors include behavior, lifestyle, gender, identity, genetics, family history, and use of/access to health care.

If society is to make progress toward achieving health equity, a cadre of physician leaders must be cultivated that understands these factors and forces, and possesses skills to intervene at the individual, system, and/or community level to impact meaningful change. The Graduate Certificate in Health Equity is offered for Vanderbilt University medical students who wish to deepen their knowledge and expertise in order to embark on leadership careers in this area. 

Find certificate objectives, steps to earn the certificate, certificate curriculum and requirements, FAQs and more below.

  1. Discuss foundational concepts related to the social determinants of health and demonstrate mastery of the associated vocabulary.
  2. Compare and contrast the role of upstream/socioeconomic and downstream/individual determinants and influencers on the health status and health care of individuals and groups at risk for poor health.
  3. Describe the roles of history, power, privilege, prejudice, racism, and structural inequality in producing health inequities.
  4. Differentiate among availability, acceptability, and accessibility of health care across diverse populations.
  5. Describe the impact of linguistic competency, cultural competency, cultural humility, and health literacy in health practice.
  6. Explain examples of situations where consideration of culture-specific needs resulted in a more effective modification or adaptation of a health intervention.
  7. Apply analytic and problem-solving skills in assessing health across groups who are vulnerable, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and/or racial, ethnic, or sexual/gender minorities, and develop strategies aimed at improving health for these specific populations. 
  8. Apply social justice and human rights principles when addressing community and population needs.
  9. Demonstrate the skills needed to communicate and interact effectively and compassionately with individuals and groups from diverse cultural backgrounds, and demonstrate attitudes associated with cultural humility.
  10. Use culturally appropriate communication and interpersonal skills in engaging with diverse individuals and communities in efforts to promote positive health outcomes.
  11. Contribute to the development of a health program, discovery, and/or strategy responsive to the needs and priorities of a community being served.

steps to earn certificate

  1. Review Certificate Requirements
    • Please review all certificate requirements and information on this page
  2. Submit Intent to Enroll
  3. Complete Coursework
    • Complete core courses (Foundations in Health Equity I & II) 
    • Complete at least two additional courses in health equity (see certificate curriculum & requirements section below for more information)
  4. Complete Immersion Experience
  5. Verify Completion
    • At least two months prior to graduation, you must submit the Certificate Verification form
    • You may initiate this form at any time during your graduate program to track your progress toward the Certificate

The Certificate in Health Equity requires the following coursework (all required courses are offered through the School of Medicine):

1. Foundations in Health Equity (FHE) I & II

  • FHE I: Twelve-week (2 hrs./week), virtual course covering foundational concepts and skills offered twice each year during the second year of medical school.
  • FHE II: Monthly evening sessions during Immersion Phase during which students work with faculty facilitators to apply foundational concepts in discussing patients they encounter in health care settings.

2. Complete at least two additional courses in health equity and related disciplines. The following courses count toward this requirement:

  • ACE: Shade Tree Elective Clinical Services Learning
  • ACE: Spanish Language Peds Clinic
  • ACE: Primary Care if taken at community-based locations, such as Siloam, Matthew Walker, and Neighborhood Health
  • ISC: Community Healthcare—Patients, Populations, and Systems of Care
  • ISC: Global Health
  • ISC: The National Opioid Crisis
  • AE: Global Health
  • AE: Contagion of Distress - How Social Determinants, Illness Experience, and Resiliency affect Mental Health

3. Immersion Experience in Health Equity (minimum two months in length):

  • Mentored experience with individualized learning goals
  • May be related to clinical care, research, public health, or community health
  • Students may use required research immersion blocks to satisfy this requirement
  • Projects can be used to satisfy Foundations of Healthcare Delivery (FHD) Quality Improvement requirement (requires FHD course director approval)

To be considered for the Graduate Certificate in Health Equity, complete and submit the Certificate Verification form. Students may initiate the form at any time during their graduate program to track their progress toward the certificates using the “Save and Return Later” feature. The form must be completed and submitted at least two months prior to graduation.

Deadlines for submission (due at least two months before your graduation date):

  • May graduates: March 1
  • August graduates: June 1
  • December graduates: October 1

The online verification form (linked above) requires students to provide the following:

  1. Verification of health equity coursework
  2. Verification of health equity immersion experience
  3. Optional: 1-paragraph bio and professional headshot to be used on our alumni pages.

Is the Certificate in Health Equity open to all Vanderbilt graduate students?

No. Unfortunately, as of now we can only offer this course to Vanderbilt University medical students.

Do I need to take FHE I prior to enrolling in FHE II?

Yes. It is preferred that you take FHE I before FHE II.

Can I submit my health equity immersion experience for pre-approval?

Yes. If you have not completed your immersion experience but are seeking pre-approval, please fill out the first section of the Health Equity Immersion Experience approval form and click "Save & Return Later."  We will review your submission and get back to you as soon as we are able to.

Where can I find more information about Graduate Certificates at Vanderbilt?

More information can be found at

Who should I contact if I have additional questions?

Please contact the Office of Health Equity at