Being Aware of the Social Determinants of Health
During my year of service with the National Health Corps, I served at an inner-city public health agency where my eyes were opened to what “health” truly is and all it entails. My host site, Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, is strategically located in an impoverished area of downtown Jacksonville. Since I serve in the area my clients live in, I see what is available to them and what is not. Many of our clients live in food deserts. One of my clients, who just had her newborn, personally shared with me this challenge. She relies on public transit, yet the closest grocery stores are too far by bus access. Therefore, she opts for cheaper, but less nutritious food from dollar stores and fast-food chains. Living in a food desert is a social factor that takes a toll on the high blood pressure she already struggles with.
Another impactful story is my client who was a single, Spanish-speaking pregnant woman living in a hazardous, open-roof trailer with her teenage boy and uncle. She was concerned about raising her newborn in this trailer since it had poor ventilation, water leaked in, and it allowed for critters to enter. When I received my client’s case, I helped her acquire public housing assistance by taking on the role as her liaison between the Jacksonville and Puerto Rico Housing Authority and being her interpreter at all the meetings. After months of advocating for her and walking alongside her in this journey, she finally signed the lease to enter her new home - an affordable, safe, and stable place to raise her family. Not having stable housing is a crucial factor that could have jeopardized her family’s health, especially for her newborn.
The countless stories of my clients have helped me become more aware of the social determinants of health and its importance when addressing a person’s whole well-being. Serving as a Care coordinator at Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition has taught me that to improve public health and promote health equity, one must be aware of the myriad of factors that play a role in a person’s health and the health care disparities for socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic minorities. I have observed how lack of transportation, food deserts, unstable housing, language barriers, domestic violence, and low socioeconomic status are all factors that make an impact on a person’s health. I plan on taking this lesson with me to medical school and, as an aspiring physician, I aim to not only consider my patient’s medical conditions, but also the patient’s environment and community. I have witnessed how addressing both can lead towards optimal attainment of physical, mental, emotional, and social health.