Nurses have long been considered the “softer” side of healthcare. Think back to when you were a child and a nurse provided comfort while getting a routine vaccination, undergoing a strep test or getting a cast on your broken arm.
As key members of the healthcare community, nurses have a critical role in maintaining health and wellness among their patients, but providing quality care involves much more than treating just “illnesses and injuries.” Social determinants of health (SDOH) are crucial in understanding an individual’s health status. Therefore, nurse educators need a solid grasp of SDOH and their impact on patient health.
What Are Social Determinants of Health?
SDOH are the conditions and circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These factors can include but are not limited to the following:
- Economic stability: employment, income, poverty and housing instability
- Education: literacy, language and education level
- Neighborhood and physical environment: access to safe housing, transportation and quality food
- Social and community context: social support, discrimination and community safety
- Healthcare: access to quality health care, including preventive and primary care services
Why Are Social Determinants of Health Important?
SDOH significantly impact an individual’s health status. Individuals who live in poverty, lack access to safe housing and experience discrimination when visiting healthcare providers are at a higher risk for chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. These individuals also have higher rates of hospitalizations and premature deaths.
In addition, SDOH contribute to race- and ethnic-related health disparities. Certain populations are more likely to experience social and economic disadvantages, negatively impacting their health equity.
“Social determinants of health result in poorer Americans developing a variety of chronic illnesses and succumbing to them more often than their wealthier peers. As a result, more still needs to be done to reduce the impact that social determinants have in determining health care outcomes,” states Michael Cirigliano II. “And nurses, stationed at the front lines of healthcare, are in a prime position to holistically address the social determinants of health and drive positive patient outcomes.”
That’s not all. SDOH also play an integral role in the potential for health improvements.
Role of the Nurse Educator in Addressing SDOH
One way to address SDOH in nursing curricula is to use case studies highlighting the impact of social determinants on patient health. These case studies can help students understand the complexities of patient care and the importance of addressing SDOH.
Another way to incorporate SDOH into nursing curricula is to provide opportunities for students to engage with their communities. Community-based learning experiences allow students to learn about SDOH firsthand and develop skills to manage them in patient care.
In addition, nurse educators can promote advocacy for policies that address SDOH. Nurses are in a unique position to advocate for their patients and the communities they serve. Educators can teach students about the policies and legislation that influence SDOH and encourage them to advocate for policies addressing these factors.
Maximizing Nurse Educators’ Role in Addressing SDOH
Nurses who understand the impact of SDOH on patient health can provide more effective care that addresses the root causes of illness and injury impact. Nurse educators are essential in preparing future nurses to address SDOH in patient care. By incorporating SDOH into nursing curricula, educators can help nurses provide high-quality care that addresses each patient’s unique needs.
But first, nurses need the skills and knowledge to fill the educator role to their greatest potential. In Master of Science (MSN) — Nursing Education online programs, such as the one offered by the University of Southern Maine (USM), nurses gain all the knowledge and skills they need to excel in an educator position.
Specifically, the Leadership, Health Policy, and Role course helps students better understand the complexities of socio-political, economic and ethical issues embedded in public policy decisions. Upon completion, graduate-prepared nurses will be well-versed in influencing, creating and implementing policy for diverse populations affected by SDOH.
Thanks to the program’s accelerated nature, nurses can complete the online program in as few as 18 months. This program is an incredible opportunity for graduates to get a jump-start in a nurse educator role and also excel in it.
Learn more about the University of Southern Maine’s online MSN – Nursing Education program.