Building a Culture of Health

Examining the impact of social determinants on health


Continuing Education conference tackles Social Determinants of Health


The health of an individual or a community is about much more than fighting disease or infection. Our overall health is determined, in part, by access to social and economic opportunities, such as the level of education or economic standing of a community, and the resources and supports available in our homes, neighborhoods and local governments. Improving these social determinants of health is key to “Building a Culture of Health” in Rhode Island.

In November 2018, health professionals from multiple disciplines came together to help build that culture by examining ways the social determinants of health impact the overall healthcare system. The social determinants span all health disciplines, and the conference presenters and attendees represented physical therapy, pharmacy, dentistry, social work, nutrition and nursing. Continuing Education credits were available to health professionals in all these fields.

The team approach to healthcare was front and center at the conference, which included a simulated case study of a fictional patient who is considering Lap-Band surgery to help control her obesity. Several conference attendees who volunteered — including a nurse, respiratory therapist, psychologist, dietician, social worker and physical therapist — moved to a separate room to review the patient’s case and meet with an actor playing the patient. The meeting was simulcast into the main ballroom at the Crown Plaza at the Crossings in Warwick, where conference attendees observed the interaction for later discussion.

The simulation gave attendees the chance to analyze how representatives from multiple health disciplines examine the same case differently, and apply their varied experience toward achieving a shared understanding of the case and a comprehensive course of treatment for the patient. The simulation highlighted how the social determinants influence healthcare providers in different ways.

“This is the first time we’ve done a live simulcast patient simulation at a conference like this,” said Maureen Hillier, who served as facilitator of the simulation. “It gives healthcare workers an opportunity to observe a case study from the outside, and reflect on ways the social determinants and the biases of different care providers may influence the course of care.”

Earlier, Susan B. Hassmiller, RN, PhD, FAAN, senior adviser for nursing at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, delivered the keynote address, highlighting the importance for health professionals to consider where patients live, learn, work and play when assessing their overall health.

Other speakers included:

  • Anita Jacobson, PharmD, Clinical Associate Professor, URI College of Pharmacy.
  • Craig Kauffman, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
  • Sarah Pullen, DPT, MPH, CHES, Associate Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.
  • Maya Vadiveloo, PhD, RD, Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, URI College of Health Sciences.
  • Suzy Barcelos Winchester, MA, MSW candidate – Rhode Island College of Social Work; Research Associate/Program Manager, Academic Practice Partnership, URI College of Nursing
  • Samuel Zwetchkenbaum, DDS, MPH, Chief of the Oral Health Program, Rhode Island Department of Health.


Recorded Presentations

The key to “Building a Culture of Health” involves professionals across the health spectrum working together, always considering how the social determinants of health impact a community’s overall health system. The conference presentations, posted below, span multiple health disciplines, including pharmacy, psychiatry, nutrition, physical therapy, social work and dentistry.

Social Determinants


The conference was supported by funding from the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services Healthcare Workforce Transformation Program with the goal of fostering a culture of health in Rhode Island.