Grocery Shelves and Public Health

For Sarah Godel, a senior at Youngstown State University and soon-to-be rising first-year College of Medicine student, participating in the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholars Program gave her a different way of looking at grocery store shelves.

The interdisciplinary, two-year AHEC program is for students interested in rural and underserved healthcare. It combines education about interdisciplinary principles, behavioral health integration, social determinants of health, cultural competency, and practice transformation – all of which helped this undergraduate gain a well-rounded perspective of the health care field before starting at the College of Medicine, says Godel.

Sarah Godel reflects on an experience that brought the term “social determinants of health” to life for her:

During my second year of AHEC, I had the chance to volunteer in multiple departments of the Youngstown City Health District. During one of my visits, the health commissioner brought me to a meeting where she spoke with the Warren City Health District about the implementation of fresh produce, bread, and milk in corner stores in the area. Upon entering a local corner store, I saw a small shelf stoked with fresh tomatoes, garlic, bananas and apples.

Although the shelf is small, it has made a big difference in the community, serving as the only convenient location for residents to buy affordable, healthy foods. I will always remember this experience because it showed me the importance of understanding social determinants of health.

A physician has to understand what food options are available to patients in order to suggest ways in which a patient should change their eating habits. As a physician, by understanding local communities around me, I can provide plausible plans for patients since I am aware of the resources that are available.

Through my participation in AHEC, I am more aware that many local communities are limited in resources and opportunities. I also recognize that patient-centered health is important in helping to transform the health care system.

In medical school, I will use my knowledge to continue to propel my learning and keep delving deeper into the topics that I have learned – educating myself and others. 

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