Beyond Health Care

Health reform has been a topic of great importance here in Washington for the past few months since discussions and debates have intensified in June, 2009.  Health reform, however, has primarily focused on one aspect of health – health care.  In the broader sense, though, health encompasses a wider reach.  For example, health professionals are more likely to acknowledge that culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status (SES) and education, among others, all contribute to an individual’s health status in one way or another.  These factors, known collectively as the social determinants of health, continue to gain interest.  The Office of Minority Health (OMH), under the Department of Health and Human Services, has issued the National Plan for Action, which sets out a framework to reduce health disparities that result from the various social determinants.

During my brief time here at MHN, I have been fortunate enough to attend two large conferences – the Virginia Health Equality Conference in September and the American Public Health Association’s Annual Conference in November.  As a result of attending these events, I met and had discussions with researchers in the field.  I highlight a few of them below:

“Sex in Medicine Week: A student-organized educational intervention and its assessment” by Francesca I. Decker and Michael A. Joseph, PhD, MPH from SUNY Downstate.

    Background – There is a lack of provider initiative regarding patient sexual health which decreases quality of patient care.  Many studies describe this problem but few programs exist to address its causes, and few tools exist to assess existing programs’ effectiveness.
    Methods – Student-organized series of lectures and workshops on patient sexual health to educate medical students in order to increase their quality of care post-graduation.
    Results – Over 100 students attended and found workshops interesting (100%) as well as useful (98.3%).

“Health Literacy Education and Communication in the Philadelphia Immigrant Community” by Anna M. Quinn, Maura A. Murphy and Katie E. Thomas of Thomas Jefferson University.

    Background – Immigrants are less likely to speak to their healthcare providers about diet and exercise than those born in the U.S.
    Methods – MPH students worked with two to three ESL students for a specified time and conducted health education and promotion.  The sessions discussed local resources for medical care and culturally sensitive health behaviors for each ESL student.  Additionally, the MPH students provided ESL students with reviewed health materials.
    Results – ESL students reported higher comprehension as well as improved language skills.  Additionally, ESL students became more familiar with local resources such as clinics, food banks, farmers’ markets and government services.

Health is an immensely important part of our lives – it is essential to live, work, play and pray, therefore, we should each treat it as a higher priority.  We can no longer depend on health care to determine our health status.  We must each take a more proactive role in becoming and staying healthy.

If you have any questions or have any ideas on how to empower individuals to take charge of their health, please do not hesitate to contact me at

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.
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