There are a number of different factors that contribute to a person’s overall health, including genetics and environment. While these are important to examine when determining health, in an editorial recently published in The Journal of Nursing Education, Dr. Teri A. Murray, PhD, APHN-BC, RN, FAAN proposes that we examine another factor: social determinants of health.
We at the American Nurses Association – Illinois think that it is important to examine all of the different factors that come into play when determining health. Because of this, we spoke with some of our members to get their insights on the interesting and important topic of social determinants of health.
SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH — WHAT ARE THEY?
Social determinants of health are aspects of one’s environment that can have an influence on lifestyle and, therefore, overall health. In the editorial “The Future of Nursing 2020–2030: Educating the Workforce,” Dr. Murray defines social determinants of health as “disparities (that) are often rooted in the environmental contexts and conditions in which people live, most often shaped by structural realities such as the distribution of wealth, power, social mores and cultural norms, economic, and political forces.”
“Concrete examples of this would include rent denial to people of color, following people of color in stores and more liquor stores in poor communities.,” said member Susana Gonzalez. “All of these things can have an affect on individuals’ health.”
COVID-19 AND SOCIAL DETERMINANTS
While social determinants of health have always been present in the American healthcare system, COVID-19 has exacerbated some of the problems. According to the Center for Disease Control, positivity rates for Black or African Americans for COVID-19 is 2.6 times higher than it is for white persons. Even more startling, hospitalizations are 4.7 times higher and deaths are 2.1 times higher.
Negative social determinants of health appear in other racial and ethnic groups as well.
“Americans who speak a language other than English can have healthcare challenges,” said member Susana Gonzalez. “This includes language barriers that can affect access for non-English speaking individuals.”
WHAT CAN NURSES DO?
For a long time, nurses faced challenges impacting patient health outside of the acute care setting—especially with regards to social determinants of health. However, this is quickly changing.
“The best thing that nurses can do, with regards to social determinants of health, is to educate your patients,” said member Colleen Morley DNP RN. “Advocating for your patient is also key.”
Susana Gonzalez added, “We should aim to provide more opportunities for minorities to seek nursing as a career. Having more racially diverse nurses can help to curve some of the social determinants of health related to race.”
ANA-ILLINOIS ADVOCATES FOR QUALITY HEALTHCARE
The American Nurses Association – Illinois recognizes that social determinants of health negatively affect certain populations. That’s why, as part of our legislative platform, we advocate for “quality health and dental care to populations whose health and dental care needs have been neglected, especially vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women, older adults, veterans, the chronically mentally ill, the disadvantaged, homeless people, minorities, persons with HIV/AIDS and those who have difficulty in obtaining health insurance.” To speak with a member of ANA-IL about this or other aspects of our legislative platform, please contact us here.