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Social Determinants of Health

The UTHSC Quality Enhancement Plan topic will be Social Determinants of Health.

What are Social Determinants of Health?
"the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels." - World Health Organization


Social and economic factors can interfere with the ability to remain healthy. Everything from safety in the community, access to healthy food, availability of safe housing, and adequate public transportation affect our health status, and must be included in the health professional’s assessment of need when interacting with a patient. Across the nation, health professions education programs are becoming aware that traditional “medical model” of care is inadequate for improving overall health in a population, and reducing health disparities and inequities. Programs must focus on familiarizing students with social determinants as well as the impact of health disparities on vulnerable populations. UTHSC has the opportunity to make Shelby County and Memphis a learning laboratory through partnerships that have as the ultimate goal – providing accessible, high quality care to all.

Good health starts in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. We train our students to understand what is needed to be and remain healthy using a medical model (i.e., presence of illness directs interaction with healthcare system) but often neglect teaching them the social factors that interfere with accomplishing this goal. Failure to recognize the challenges facing many communities related to eating well and staying active, not smoking, getting the recommended immunizations and screening tests, and seeing a doctor for preventive care, before we get sick, often results in frustration in the health professional and missed opportunities to assist patients in utilizing available social and economic community supports.

There is now adequate knowledge and available scientific evidence to appreciate the role of social factors in having good health. Preparation will focus on a review of the literature in this area and existing training curricula to shape the design of a Social Determinants of Health training curriculum customized to the UTHSC/Shelby County community. This will include identifying the key social factors that create barriers to achieving improved health outcomes, creating metrics to determine effectiveness of our approach, and measuring student satisfaction (personal and professional) with this learning approach.


sdoh chart

Each of the colors in our Circle of Social Determinants represents the five key areas that make up the framework of Social Determinants of Health.

  • Economic Stability: Employment, Income, Expenses, Debt, Support, Food Security
  • Built Environment: Housing, Transportation, Safety and Crime, Parks, Food Availability
  • Education: Early Childhood, Elementary, Secondary, Higher Education, Libraries, Vocational Training
  • Health and Health Care: Health Coverage, Provider Availability, Cultural Competency, Quality
  • Social and Community Context: Social Integration, Support Systems, Community Engagement, Discrimination 
Apr 17, 2024