Acting surgeon general shares insights at Cultural Inclusion Institute Conference

Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, the acting U.S. Surgeon General, shakes hands with UT Health President William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, during a visit to the School of Nursing April 26.
Rear Admiral Trent-Adams poses with School of Nursing faculty and students.

One hundred fifty health professionals who attended the 4th Annual Cultural Inclusion Institute Conference had a front row seat in learning about public health priorities for the nation during a keynote presentation by newly appointed acting U.S. Surgeon General Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D., RN, FAAN.

The conference, held April 26-27 in San Antonio, was sponsored by the Cultural Inclusion Institute and Office of Lifelong Learning, both part of the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing.

Rear Admiral Trent-Adams, the first nurse to be named acting Surgeon General, knows firsthand what it is like to grow up as a member of a minority group in a rural town with limited access to health care.

Social determinants of health

In her presentation, “Nursing’s role in leading healthcare transformation as it relates to social determinants of health,” Rear Admiral Trent-Adams outlined the social determinants of health―the cultural and environmental factors into which individuals are born and unable to control―and challenged attendees to understand how these factors cause many patients to develop lifelong health challenges.  She also encouraged attendees to use this knowledge to advocate for their patients, whether at the bedside or through legislation, to improve health care for all.

Social determinants of health include the color of your skin, the family into which you were born, your family’s economic status, having enough healthy food to eat and your family’s social status.

These and other factors, such as your access to health care, the quality of education you receive and your family’s stress level in providing for you, help shape your success in life and your health status, she said. These determinants often create barriers to an individual’s pathway to a longer, healthier life.

For example, if you are an adult with diabetes but do not have health insurance, you may not be able to improve your health enough to find and hold a job. If you cannot find a job, you can’t afford health insurance, medicine or the healthy foods to improve your heath, she explained.

Rear Admiral Trent-Adams said research has shown that a person’s educational level is the social determinant that most affects a person’s health. Education is the great equalizer, she noted, giving individuals access to better jobs, higher salaries, a higher degree of social acceptance, access to health care and statistically, a longer life. She said that college graduates generally live about five years longer than those without a degree.

Rear Admiral Trent-Adams shared data from the Public Health Agency in Canada that suggests spending more money on medicine and health care may not be the answer to improved public health, but improving the environment in which people live, such as their living and working conditions, can help them to attain good health.

Nurses as advocates for their patients

This is why she challenged those attending the conference to learn more about their patients so that they can become better advocates for them, which will help achieve better public health in the U.S. She urged the health professionals to embrace lifelong learning and to take advantage of unexpected opportunities, as she has in her career, to be prepared for opportunities to speak out and make a difference.

“I’ve learned through my experiences that you need to learn about policy to the degree that you know how policies are made and what policies are needed. If you’re not involved and at the table, you’re on the menu,” she quipped. “To make positive changes, you need to be at the table and on the team.”

“Most patients don’t have a voice unless you give them one,” she added. “You nurses at the bedside see what is working and what is not.  Nurses play a key role in advocating for patients.

Acting Surgeon General

In her role as acting surgeon general, Rear Admiral Trent-Adams is charged with providing the public with the best scientific-based information, so that people can make informed decisions for their health. Her role also includes leading the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a group of more than 6,700 uniformed public health professionals working throughout the federal government to protect, promote and advance the health and security of the nation.

Example to nursing faculty and students

UT Health School of Nursing Dean Eileen T. Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, said that Rear Admiral Trent-Adams’ achievements as a nurse are a wonderful example to student nurses and faculty members, who had the opportunity to meet with the acting surgeon general during a breakfast meeting on campus prior to her presentation at the Cultural Inclusion Institute Conference.

“We are appreciative that Dr. Trent-Adams shared her nursing career with the students and faculty so that they can see that high level of achievement is attainable,” Dr. Breslin said. “Having her articulate a roadmap for effective policymaking demonstrates that all nurses and health professionals should be involved in empowering health care in our nation.”

Accepting the challenge

Dr. Breslin also pointed out that the School of Nursing’s mission, “We make lives better by promoting health as an act of social justice,” shows the school’s commitment to improving the social determinants of health. “This is in the DNA of our school because of our outstanding faculty,” she said.

One of the ways the School of Nursing is employing this philosophy is through its UT Nursing Clinical Enterprise, led by Cindy Sickora, D.N.P., RN, vice dean for practice and engagement. The practice includes a partnership with Healy-Murphy Center to provide prenatal health information and nutritional counseling to pregnant teens by family nurse practitioners, and a pediatric health and wellness clinic for the teens’ children provided by pediatric nurse practitioners. The UT Nursing partnership with AVANCE San Antonio provides a community outreach clinic for families of children in the Early Head Start program at AVANCE’s Castroville Road location and a pediatric wellness clinic for children in AVANCE’s Fenley Center’s Head Start program.

Cultural Inclusion Institute

The Cultural Inclusion Institute was founded by Norma Martinez Rogers, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, a professor in the School of Nursing, who despite her humble beginnings growing up in public housing in San Antonio, has overcome many obstacles to an attain five academic degrees and a nearly 40-year career in academic nursing.

Dr. Martinez Rogers has been a longtime advocate for the underserved, and has spent a large part of her career recruiting and supporting first-generation and minority nursing students through mentoring programs to help them achieve success. Dr. Martinez Rogers’ latest national honor was bestowed In March, when she was presented the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Sustainability in Nursing Education Lectureship Award.


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