Influencing health: How where we live, learn, work and play matters

Over the past several months, our country has seen the social determinants of health (SDOH) on stark display. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined existing health disparities and the ways in which health risks are tied to features of employment, housing and neighborhood environment, and trust in the health care system.

Discussions about SDOH have also evolved in the public sphere, namely by declaring racism, in addition to race, a social determinant of health. Racism is a public health crisis that is deservedly receiving heightened attention as local lawmakers across the US have declared it as such.

Baylor College of Medicine has a renewed commitment to address inequitable health outcomes affecting underrepresented minorities. Key to doing so is understanding of SDOH as critical to both the design of clinical and bioethics research and the provision of clinical care.

Research design must properly account for relevant SDOH; participants are more than a data point. Clinicians must appreciate the significance of SDOH when caring for individuals; patients are more than their ICD-10 code.

To support education on fundamental principles of SDOH and immersion in related scholarship, the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are launching a new journal club on Social Determinants of Health, Medicine, and Ethics. We are assembling a diverse group of scholars, clinicians, researchers, and trainees from across Baylor to engage with evolving SDOH topics and foster research collaborations.

The journal club will critically review academic and multi-media materials that address how features of where individuals live, work, and play interact with health, quality-of-life, and risks, including those outside of the health care system such as police brutality. Special emphasis will be placed on the intersection of race and racism with other SDOH, clinical care, and research ethics.

We are also launching a new blog series hosted on Policywise. This series, the Social Determinants Digest, will give a quick rundown of the topics discussed at each journal club meeting.

Classic examples of SDOH include socioeconomic status, demographic characteristics and associated discrimination, social relationships, and neighborhood and workplace settings. We will also share links in the blog posts to materials that we found especially interesting or discussion-worthy.

Our hope is that through these rich discussions and shared content, we can help enable SDOH to become more meaningfully incorporated into our work and help ensure long-term institutional engagement.

-By Hadley Stevens Smith, Ph.D., MPSA, health policy fellow, Mary Anderlik Majumder, J.D., Ph.D., professor, and Katrina A. Muñoz, research assistant at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine

The journal club will meet bi-monthly on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Check back here for updates to the series. If you are connected to Baylor and interested in joining the journal club, contact Hadley Stevens Smith.

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