Using Biochemistry to Educate Students on the Causal Link between Social Epigenetics and Health Disparities

  • Edgar S. Diaz-Cruz Belmont University College of Pharmacy
  • Michael D. Harland Belmont University College of Pharmacy
  • Caleb Darensbourg Belmont University College of Pharmacy
Keywords: epigenetics; biochemistry; social determinants of health; health disparities


Background: While pharmacy education standards require students to recognize social determinants of health (SDOH), there is an opportunity to improve how this is taught in the curriculum.  One innovative approach is to educate student pharmacists in a biochemistry course through the integration of topics like epigenetics using SDOH as the framework.

Innovation: A 50-minute educational activity was used to supplement material on the regulation of gene expression, in which epigenetic changes are driven by SDOH.  It provided students with a biochemical basis to explain some health disparities, rather than viewing them exclusively as social obstacles to health.  The activity employed a mini-lecture, a short video, as well as both small and large group discussion.  A reflective paper was used to assess students’ understanding of the topic, and the role of the pharmacist in helping patients prevent diseases caused by epigenetic changes due to social determinants of health.  

Findings: A post-activity survey showed that the activity increased students’ perception of knowledge about SDOH, as well as the effect of epigenetic changes on health outcomes.  Furthermore, this activity increased students’ awareness about the role that SDOH play in epigenetic changes and challenged students to understand the role that society plays in health outcomes.  

Conclusions: The preventable nature of health inequities creates an opportunity to integrate public health into pharmacy education.  The integration of epigenetics and SDOH gives the student an opportunity to provide a mechanistic link between social inequities and biochemical processes. 


Article Type: Note


Download data is not yet available.
Received 2019-12-06
Accepted 2020-08-12
Published 2020-09-02