Center Assistant Professor Jennifer McCurdy, PhD, BSN, MH, HEC-C, presented “Beyond Patient Behavior: Using Structural Competency to Create Health Equity” at the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) 26th Annual Conference on Bioethics: Contemporary Challenges in Clinical Bioethics in November. McCurdy’s presentation explored the social, political, and economic contexts that act as barriers to patients care and impede physicians’ ability to effectively treat them.
McCurdy asked those in attendance the following questions: Have you ever experienced moral distress or frustration associated with the medical “system?” Have you ever been unable to treat a patient for whom treatment exists, based on factors that are out of your control? What were those factors?
Using a case example, McCurdy discussed factors that determine the health status of an individual, such as behaviors, cultural norms, and biology. She also discussed social determinants of health, such as poverty, inadequate or no housing, lack of access to education, and lack of access to healthcare. McCurdy also outlined structural determinants of health, pointing to social structures, political structures and policy, and economic structures and policy—the “causes of the causes.”
How can physicians help? They are uniquely positioned in spaces that connect the medical world and the patients’ worlds, where they can observe recurrent barriers to care. They can work to create change at individual, interpersonal, and institutional levels. McCurdy also outlined how physicians’ involvement in the community, in policy, and in research can create structural change and therefore improve health equity.
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By Liz McDaniel