Social determinants of health training focuses on thinking beyond medicine

Woodson "Scott" Jones (left), MD, vice dean for graduate medical education and designated institutional official professor of pediatrics at UT Health San Antonio, works with a trainee.

June 20 event draws about 200 medical residents, fellows-in-training

To Averi White, MD, a third-year internal medicine resident, health care is as much about the circumstances that bring her patients to see her as the treatment she provides.

“Social determinants of health are the heart of humanity,” said White, chief resident of quality and safety for the Department of Internal Medicine at UT Health San Antonio who also treats patients at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital. “They are the aspects that make the person before you a human, not another medical record number, or another admission, or another consult, or the patient who is always late or the one who never takes their prescriptions. A human, just like me and you.”

White gave a medical resident’s perspective at an annual Social Determinants of Health Training, hosted by UT Health San Antonio’s Office of Graduate Medical Education in collaboration with University Health, on Tuesday, June 20, that drew about 200 residents and fellows-in-training. The event took place at the Academic and Learning Center on the university’s main campus.

Averi White, MD.

For the first time, the event featured a Resource Fair with organizations that offer assistance to patients in need, such as VIA Metropolitan Transit, CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System (SAWS). The training also included a virtual simulation and hosted featured speakers from local health authorities. The simulation and presentations served as an opportunity to help ignite conversations and encourage residents and fellows-in-training to partner with their patients as they screen for and address social determinants of health.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines social determinants of health as “conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”

“Studies suggest factors outside of health care impact up to 80% of health,” said Woodson “Scott” Jones, MD, vice dean for graduate medical education and designated institutional official professor of pediatrics at UT Health San Antonio. “We’re preparing our trainees to recognize and address these factors in order to better serve the San Antonio community. Food insecurity, health illiteracy and lack of resources are few of the many factors trainees are exposed to during this training.”

Aside from White and Jones, other speakers included:

  • Bryan Alsip, MD, MPH, FACPM, executive vice president and chief medical officer, University Health.
  • Jason Morrow, MD, PhDFAAHPM, associate professor of medicine and assistant director of ethics education at the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics, UT Health San Antonio..
  • Christine Drennon, PhD, director and associate professor of urban studies, Trinity University, San Antonio.
  • Junda Woo, MD, MPH, medical director and local health authority, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.
  • Carolina Gonzalez SchlenkerMD, MPH, assistant professor/clinical in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and supervisor of a primary care program of “promotores,” or state-certified community health workers, Long School of Medicine, UT Health San Antonio.

Graduate medical education counselors as well as care coordinators from University Health and the VA also led sessions.

The event is described as an immersive training experience that highlights existing challenges to addressing health-related social determinants in the current health care ecosystem. It is part of an overall strategy to create a more equitable health care environment, remove barriers and support communities in South Texas in achieving their best overall health.

“Throughout this training, we highlight the non-medical factors that significantly impact the health outcomes of our community members, fostering a deep understanding of the root causes of health disparities,” said Bianca Rodriguez, health systems science manager at UT Health San Antonio. “By gaining this knowledge, our trainees develop a heightened awareness of the intricate complexities within patients’ lives while learning to appreciate a patient’s background and contexts that shape their health experiences.”

During their training, participants learned more about the promotores who serve as bridges of trust between clinicians and the patients they care about.

For more information about social determinants of health, watch this video.

Learn more here about the social determinants of health training at UT Health San Antonio.

“Ultimately, our training equips our trainees with the necessary tools and perspectives to drive positive change, promoting healthier and more equitable health care delivery while better addressing social determinants of health,” Rodriguez said.

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