I trained for many years to become a trauma surgeon, completing medical school, a residency, and a fellowship. But, looking back on my education in light of my patients, I have learned that taking care of my patients means more than just performing a surgery. If I want to improve their health and well-being, I must address the realities of their social circumstances.
Every day, I see patients whose home, community, or environment negatively affects their health, and these invisible yet critical issues need to be addressed. I remember an elderly woman whose wound would not heal when she left the hospital because she did not have access to healthy food. A young man who could not afford antibiotics was readmitted to the hospital with worsening diverticulitis that required an emergency surgery.
Too many people view surgeons as doctors who enter the fray to provide a quick fix. My work reaches far beyond the walls of the operating room. At essential hospital Boston Medical Center, I started the Socially Responsible Surgery group to incorporate targeting social needs into how surgeons treat patients. By giving surgeons the tools to screen their patients for social determinants of health, including food and housing insecurity, we can better tailor our treatment plan based on their social needs. This means that, if we know a patient is homeless, we can help connect the patient to housing resources as part of the discharge plan. If we know a patient is having trouble accessing healthy food, we can make sure the discharge plan includes a prescription for a visit to our hospital preventive food pantry.
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