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Introduction to Structural Competency is a Course

Introduction to Structural Competency

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Full course description

There are many factors that lead to poor health outcomes for people in our local communities. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but our communities also have strengths that we can build on to move towards health equity. This training will teach you how to use a framework called structural competency to both keep from feeling overwhelmed and keep your eye on the bigger (complex) picture.

So what is structural competency? The concept was originally developed by medical educators who were interested in teaching physicians in training about the “upstream” factors that contribute to poor health. In other words, they wanted physicians to start asking “why” when they see a patient who is struggling with illness or disease. For example, if a patient arrives in their office with a new diagnosis of diabetes, rather than just start a treatment plan, a structural competency perspective would also encourage the physician to learn about what might have led to this diagnosis. For example, does their patient have access to healthy foods? Do they have safe places to exercise? These questions point to larger “upstream” factors that contribute to poor health.

In our work in Doña Ana County, we have expanded the concept of structural competency to go beyond just medical education and include all of our community members who are working to address health inequities. For us, structural competency is the capacity for health professionals, communities, and governments to recognize and respond to health and illness as the downstream effects of upstream social, political, and economic structures.

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