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Social Determinants of Health in Nursing

Despite progress in healthcare and healthcare access, many individuals still face seemingly insurmountable challenges to their well-being. Experts have classified these obstacles as social determinants of health (SDoH).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines SDoH as the “conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age.” These conditions are often not determined by the patients but by people and organizations in positions of power locally, nationally and globally. This fact means that the state of health varies between communities, and patients seek healthcare from various and complex places of need.

Health Affairs states there are different components of SDoH in the healthcare system, including:

  • Lack of housing
  • Difficult living environments or living conditions
  • Limited access to food
  • Lack of reasonable transportation
  • Violence in the patient’s life
  • Lack of monetary resources
  • Insufficient support system

Each factor has complex elements and depends on the circumstances of the patient experiencing these SDoH, which nurses learn in Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. From a care perspective, nurses who work with underserved communities with less-than-ideal SDoH can support and advocate socially for patients in need of resources. No matter the scenario, there is a great need for compassion between nurse and patient.

The Intersection Between Nursing Education and Practice

In a study conducted in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, nurses were asked about their knowledge of SDoH to help their patients effectively. Many stated they were more aware of certain SDoH than others, and many nurses expressed the desire for further education and practice in the full method of SDoH in nursing.

When nurses learn about SDoH as they relate to all aspects of health determinants, they can better ensure that every single patient has a voice in the healthcare facility. In addition, nursing education and practice intersect with SDoH through the advanced clinical lessons taught within various nursing programs nationwide.

Many nursing education programs train nursing students on the science behind sociology and how to apply this form of psychology to healthcare. As nurses start combining their knowledge of nursing with evidence-based sociology research, they can fully understand their patients’ health-related challenges and meet their individualized needs.

One area of healthcare that addresses SDoH is population health, which “provides an opportunity for health care systems, agencies and organizations to work together in order to improve the health outcomes of the communities they serve.” While population health involves the healthcare sector, other contributors are academia, industry, local government and more. Population health highlights health concerns and identifies resources and ways those resources can be used to improve health, connecting “practice to policy for change to happen locally.” Nurses working in population health can use this network of information and resources to identify vulnerable populations and provide specific assistance based on SDoH and their unique personal circumstances, including location, income, gender, age, medical conditions, etc.

Trends and Practices to Ensure Treatment

According to ScienceDirect, “nurses can be leaders and change agents in advancing health equity by screening for social determinants that affect women and by engaging in cross-sector collaboration to build partnerships outside the health care system to address complex social needs.”

Nurses can also advocate for patients to ensure treatment through learning about the experiences of others. They can utilize that knowledge to address the disparities between certain groups or communities worldwide.

Health Affairs explains that “two of the most widely used [questionnaires] are the accountable health communities (AHC) instrument and the protocol for responding to and assessing patients’ assets, risks, and experiences (PRAPARE) instrument.”

By getting to know others more personally, nurses show compassion and dedication to helping those in need. Additionally, it is beneficial for nurses and healthcare providers to team up and implement new methods to assess patients for SDoH.

Prepare to Navigate Social Determinants of Health With a Bachelor’s Degree

One way to navigate SDoH as a nurse is to further your career and earn your BSN degree. Those who enroll in the RN to BSN online program at the University of Illinois Chicago will be prepared for leading roles in evidence-based patient care as experienced professionals. Students will adapt to the evolving needs of the healthcare system and empower themselves to continue to grow in their nursing careers.

This intensive program, which can be completed in as few as 12 months, allows all students to systematically utilize the nursing process to provide and coordinate healthcare. In addition, nurses will learn to address complex health issues across the lifespan for individuals, families and communities. For example, the Concepts in Professional Nursing course covers contemporary practices in professional nursing. In the Population Focused Nursing Care course, students focus on population-focused nursing, public health and community health nursing concepts.

Each future graduate will obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to enter influential roles in healthcare, such as those in population health management, nursing management, quality and safety leadership, nursing care management, community health nursing or public health nursing.

Learn more about the University of Illinois Chicago’s RN to BSN online program.

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