We’ve heard it before: to be healthy, you need to eat well, exercise, get adequate sleep, and see the doctor on a regular basis. But what if you live in a food desert where processed goods are more plentiful than fresh ones? What if it isn’t viable for you to exercise outdoors in your neighborhood, but you can’t afford to join a gym? What if you live below the poverty level, belong to an ethnic minority, or face systemic bias within the healthcare system based on your gender identity?
All of these social factors, in addition to housing inequality, environmental safety issues, lack of education, and geographic location, affect the kind of healthcare you receive in the United States and around the world. But at NYU, we believe that healthcare is a basic human right, and we are preparing students to become outspoken advocates for health equity through education, research, policy work, and outreach. With these tools at our disposal, the NYU community is making good health accessible to more people every day.
One of the most effective ways to help large groups of people leverage health resources is through policy. “All people, regardless of circumstances, should have opportunities to improve and maintain their health,” says Charlotte Kahan, a Public Policy major at the College of Arts and Science. “Policymakers can make a meaningful impact on people’s lives by crafting legislation to expand Medicaid and Medicare coverage, subsidizing nutritious foods for low-income people, and encouraging physical education programs in schools.”
An apple a day won’t always keep the doctor away, but at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, students in the food studies and nutrition and dietetics programs learn how access to health food along with nutrition education can be powerful weapons in the fight for health equity. “In my Community Nutrition course, we learn low-income communities are specifically targeted by marketing campaigns that portray fast food as healthy and cool,” says Supriya Sumeer Lal, a Global Public Health and Nutrition and Dietetics combined major. “We’re combating this false information with community-based nutrition education programs, and we talk about ways to make nutrition part of the curricula in all schools, from elementary to grad school, and how to team up with policymakers to incentivize grocery stores to bring fresh produce into more neighborhoods.”
As studies like Charlotte’s and Supriya’s point out, bias and background play an important role in how people’s health is treated. That’s why Paul Abraham Roessling, a student at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, created a concentration called the intersection of narrative and medicine. “The narratives we create about people define how we provide healthcare in good and bad ways,” says Paul. For example, people who are obese are more likely to have serious symptoms dismissed as side effects of their weight. “But taking the time to actually learn someone’s story makes us better care providers,” Paul adds. “When we can see the whole picture, we can create tailored care and compassionate practices that save lives and promote the equitable distribution of medical care.”
When the disadvantaged or uninsured seek medical attention, social workers and nurses are often their first point of contact. Students at the Silver School of Social Work learn how to treat people within the context of their social, economic, and cultural background, while nursing students are taught extensively about how to develop cultural sensitivity. “To provide holistic care, healthcare workers need to understand other cultures and respect their patients’ values,” says nursing student Ryan Byun. “Getting to know our populations means we can build the trust we need in order to advocate for and educate patients, making sure they have the resources and knowledge that they need to lead healthy lives.”
Throughout their fieldwork, volunteer jobs, and clinical training, social work and nursing students become well-equipped at handling any issues that come up, from helping families in subsidized housing deal with unsafe living conditions to improving the mental well-being of isolated elderly clients by connecting them with community resources and counseling. They may conduct community-wide health screenings as well as help people with chronic illnesses live happier, healthier lives.
Building a more equitable society means making buildings, communities, and services more inclusive to those with physical challenges. For example: