Why the next generation of nurses must look at social determinants of health

The next generation of nurses can change healthcare for the better if they are willing to rethink and disrupt the nursing status quo by addressing the role of inequality and social factors in healthcare, argues Nicole Smith, an alumna of UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

A majority of nurses believe the profession is changing for the worse, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Far too many in the existing workforce get comfortable working in hospital settings and forget that nurses started out working in community settings, Smith told Comstock's.

Smith's master's thesis focused on how race affected infant mortality rates and while interviewing prenatal healthcare providers for low-income California mothers, she learned that most providers saw that black pregnant women receive unequal treatment compared to other races. Furthermore, she says, black women experience emotional stress and trauma from racism that often triggers stress in the body, leading to complications of low birth weights or preterm births. 

The nurses of tomorrow must be able to frankly address these issues and how they affect population health, said Smith. "The major thing is addressing the elephant in the room: people's inherent biases," she said. "Biases they may not even be aware of. It's not going to be a quick solution, but leaders need to get to work on this one."

As population health management becomes a top priority for providers, many health experts urge increased attention to sociodemographic determinants of health. For example, in the wake of unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, the city's health commissioner has aims to address the connection between public health and social factors such as poverty, violence and drug addiction, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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