USC Keck School of Medicine

Patrick Sammons, Team Leader

Patrick grew up in an old red house in the heart of wine country in Northern California. He attended the University of California Santa Cruz where he became enamored with science and searched for banana slugs. He then took some years off from structured education to gain perspective and experience what life is really like for people outside of the bubble of the United States. He is currently a rising second year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, and when not studying, you can find Patrick playing pickup basketball or exploring new trails around LA.

Matthew Demarest, Team Member

Matthew was born and raised in Los Angeles, California where he discovered his love for science and baseball. He went on to pursue both of those loves at the University of California San Diego. In 2017, Matthew graduated with a B.S. in Physiology in Neuroscience in the Spring and matriculated to the Keck School of Medicine of USC in the Fall. Matthew enjoys spending his precious free time in the great outdoors hiking and camping with his fiance.

Saptati (Priya) Bhattacharjee, Team Member

Priya is a first year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine, USC, interested in the intersections between pediatrics, technology, and global health. As an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!), Priya studied Bioengineering with a minor in Creative Writing, simultaneously fostering her interests in medical devices and short fiction. In her free time, Priya enjoys trying new restaurants, writing short stories, cooking, and binge-watching Bollywood movies.

Team Essay

Fundamentally, sustainable solutions for global health challenges require consideration of policy-level changes. Understanding social determinants of health (SDOH) ensures lasting and effective policy tailored for each community. As young healthcare professionals who are not necessarily well-equipped to create larger policy changes, understanding underlying SDOH provides a lens through which we can see a more accurate picture of the complicated circumstances our patients experience. As a result, we can use SDOH to feel more comfortable navigating complex patient situations, focus on long-term sustainable solutions, and address underlying problems rather than superficial needs.

In global health settings, patient situations are often complicated by variables outside health systems. Learning about SDOH can help navigate these difficult circumstances to provide proper, directed care. While volunteering with Unite for Sight in Chennai, India, we were able to see the difficulties in delivering appropriate care to patients with particularly unique challenges. Over ⅔ of patients in rural India do not seek eye care despite suffering from cataracts, glaucoma, and other pathologies. Initially, it seems that failure to seek care stems from a lack of eye health awareness. However, by considering SDOH, it becomes evident that understanding a patient’s failure to seek care must also take into account financial, physical, and cultural accessibility. Often, cost of treatment is limiting and the physical distance to care is insurmountable. In addition, fear of procedures stems from a lack of information as well as from cultural barriers like distrust of physicians or the belief that illnesses have non-physiologic causes. Health delivery organizations that recognize these needs by thinking more critically about SDOH, like Unite for Sight, are able to partner with local physicians to provide culturally competent, accessible care more effectively to patients in need.

Treating the symptoms of greater social injustices is essential, but it is a mistake to believe that this solves the underlying problem. Alvarado Hospital in San Diego treats immigrants apprehended by border patrol while attempting to illegally enter the US. As volunteers, we witnessed many people brought in by border patrol for various reasons. Some required flu shots while others needed urgent surgery. Some came to the US to be closer to their families, while others were fleeing cartel violence. In the ED, it is easy to simply treat the presenting condition without understanding the underlying causes. As physicians-in-training who aspire to change the inequality present in our current global health system, we must focus our efforts on changing the policies, ideologies, and other underlying factors that precipitate health disparities. We cannot dedicate our careers to addressing superficial needs and expect real, lasting change.

SDOH account for eighty percent of our health outcomes. Without focusing on SDOH, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by complicated patient situations and mistakenly focus our attention on downstream issue, leading to ineffective change, short-term solutions, and cultural pushback. Therefore, if we truly wish to understand and affect health outcomes globally, we must first change our mindset as learners to focus on understanding the SDOH that impact health so dramatically.