Physicians Urged to Become 'Political Advocates' for Patients

John Commins, March 19, 2014

Two advocates for public health want healthcare workers trained to be "structurally competent" in basic economics, urban infrastructure, and other societal factors that can negatively impact patients' health.

 

Jonathan  Metzl, MD<

Jonathan Metzl, MD
UPMC/Director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Medicine, Health and Society

Physicians must become vocal and assertive political advocates for their patients and possess "structural competence" to identify and address social ills that harm public health. Teaching that structural competence should be part of pre-med and medical school curriculum, two public health advocates say.

In an essay published this month Social Science and Medicine, psychiatrists Jonathan Metzl, MD, director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Medicine, Health and Society and Helena Hansen, MD, of New York University, say it's clear that people's health and wellness can be linked to their zip codes as much as their genetic codes. As a result, they say, physicians need to understand and identify the "social factors" that can make their patients sick.

"The impetus behind this project is that the voice of medicine in standing up for better infrastructure for people has been absent," Metzl said in a telephone interview. "We are not asking anyone to advocate any particular position. We are saying that since we know that social factors can cause illnesses, medicine needs to be more vocal and using its moral voice to stand up for improving social infrastructure factors."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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