Social determinants of health: the key to unlocking a healthier population?

November 4, 2019

Two people have the same illness. One seeks and receives effective treatment. The other isn’t so lucky. Why? The answer is more complicated than you think.

On this episode of Boldly, Joule Innovation grant recipient and founder of Stand Up for Health, Dr. Latif Murji, joins Megan Schellenberg, Social Innovation Advisor at Joule. Dr. Murji discusses his perspective on the social determinants of health (SDOH) and how it was transformed by a simulation event he did in medical school. Now he wants to make sure everyone working with patients shares that same experience.

Dr. Murji is passionate about igniting a movement toward empathy and deeper understanding of social factors that affects health outcomes. With his simulations at already over 800 views, he hopes to spark meaningful change in Canada’s health care policies. And, through helping medical professionals experience life from a different perspective, he aims to inspire compassion towards the health difficulties facing our neighbours and often-forgotten community members.

Listen to learn more about SDOH and how medical professionals can help balance the scales.

tweetable: “Right now, there is not enough being done about the things that weigh the most on our health as a society.”

Key takeaways

What inspired Dr. Murji to create Stand Up for Health?

  • He had a lightbulb moment in a course that included a simulation showing how SDOH affects patient care.
  • If others could experience what people go through, he believed it would change their perspective too.

tweetable: “This is about’s all about social factors that affect health.”

What does “SDOH” mean?

  • The social factors that affect people's health―such as income, race and gender.
  • Social determinants are the root factors that produce different behaviours related to health.

tweetable: “Social factors are leading to health inequities.”

How did growing up in Scarborough affect his perception of SDOH?

  • In his youth, he experienced racism and poverty that others didn’t. He realized there was inequity within his community.
  • Once he gained a theoretical framework for the inequalities, he was able to build a tool to help understand and change it.

tweetable: “At our very core, we are a movement about the social determinants of health.”

Why did Dr. Murji focus on experiential learning? What is the benefit for medical students specifically?

  • By experiencing what someone else goes through, students can develop genuine empathy.
  • Experiential learning gives a glimpse of what it’s like to live through those social determinants.
  • He wants to create a memorable situation to spark conversation and build a long-term movement.

tweetable: “You can learn it at a superficial level…but that doesn’t lead to true empathy.”

What has the feedback been like so far?

  • Over 800 people have gone through the simulation.
  • It’s appreciated. People can see that it is only a small glimpse of what life might be like in different circumstances.

tweetable: “I think we can shift a generation’s values to being more empathetic.”

What’s in store for the future of Stand Up for Health?

  • Dr. Murji is very hopeful about the future of his project.
  • He sees it as a movement to change societal values so they become more focused on the health of the group—not just the individual.

tweetable: “We want to expose everyone to these ideas so we are truly creating a paradigm shift.”

What initiatives are on the go now?

  • The simulation now runs on an app instead of being done on cards in a large room.
  • The app allows for more flexibility. Everything can be more dynamic.
  • Dr. Murji and his team are developing new scenarios and they’re working on an entirely new simulation.
  • Stand Up for Indigenous Health is a new simulation exploring SDOH specific to indigenous populations.

tweetable: “To me, the sky is the limit for Stand Up for Health.”

Where can others learn more about the social determinants of health?

tweetable: “I think it is going to change the way we think about each other.”


Recommended resources

Experiential Simulation Highlights Plight of Low-Income Canadians, a University of Toronto article about Stand Up for Health.

Faces of U of T Medicine: Latif Murji, a University of Toronto interview with Dr. Murji.

Social determinants of health and health inequalities, a Health Canada summary.

What are the social determinants of health?, a Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) article.

Dr. Alex Bilbily and Dr. Latif Murji - Joule Innovation grant recipients 2018, a Joule video.

Caring for marginalized patients, a Boldly podcast + aricle.

CMA Foundation: Stand Up for Indigenous Health, a CMA Foundation page about Stand Up for Indigenous Health.



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The opinions stated by podcast participants are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries, including Joule. Joule does not endorse any views, product, service, association, company or industry mentioned in this podcast.

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