Using Digital Stories to Educate Public Health Students About Local Social Determinants of Health

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Digital stories are short videos that use narrative structures to address issues from a personal perspective. They have been used to educate populations about health topics, including teen pregnancy, cancer screening, and substance abuse. Social determinants of health and structural inequalities are known contributors to health inequity and are a set of fundamental concepts for public health students to understand, particularly within local communities. To address this issue, a digital story was created by an instructor of undergraduate and graduate public health courses with both the instructor’s personal narrative and commentary when driving between adjacent racially segregated neighborhoods in a suburb near where she lives. The health disparities and the connection between place and health were highlighted in the narration. Public health students at a university that borders the communities featured were shown the video, pre- and posttests were administered (n = 119) and a paired t test was performed to measure differences in the students’ knowledge about social determinants of health. An open-ended question about the video was also analyzed. Students demonstrated increased understanding of social determinants of health (p < .001), local health inequity (p < .001), and residential segregation (p < .000). Qualitative responses indicated that students had seen these differences in local neighborhoods but were unaware of the connection between residential segregation and health. Digital stories, particularly rooted in local neighborhoods, can be an effective way to educate undergraduate and graduate students about social determinants of health.

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