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VOL. 132 | NO. 141 | Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Rhodes Taps First Chair In Population Health

By Andy Meek

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One of the philosophies behind Dr. Kendra Hotz’s career as a health care-related researcher and scholar is the notion that a person’s ZIP code casts a much longer shadow over their health care than their genetic code does.

She’ll be exploring and helping students explore that reality more deeply as a result of her being tapped as the first holder of the newly created Robert R. Waller Chair in Population Health at Rhodes.

Rhodes says the purpose of creating the chair is to provide leadership for urban studies majors focused on urban and community health. Hotz, whose chairmanship will entail both a research component and teaching five courses a year, will be keenly focused on what are known as the social determinants of health – studying the interplay between things like race, social class, what kind of foods are available in an area and the like.

The creation of the position is also a reflection of the school’s interest in bringing an academic analysis to some of the health disparities that exist in Memphis. Hotz also brings a background in religious studies to her new role.

“We have to recognize that our health outcomes are less a product of the choices we make than they are a product of the life chances available to us,” said Hotz, whose career has included being named theologian in residence at Church Health.

She’s also been tapped as senior scholar in religion and ethics in the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. And she’s written books like “Dust and Breath: Faith, Health and Why the Church Should Care about Both.”

“So if health is socially constructed, then as a society we have an obligation to create the conditions that give people a fair chance at good health,” Hotz said. “My discipline is religious studies, so the most basic thing I’m interested in is how people make sense of their lives at the most fundamental level. And my question has been about how those faith commitments shape the ways people live, the kinds of communities they make, the choices they make and the way they make sense of what happens to them.”

The chairmanship is named for Dr. Bob Waller, who’s served as a trustee at Rhodes since 2003. He’s worked locally and nationally toward pursuing more equity, among other things, in health care both locally and nationally. He’s also past president and CEO of the Mayo Healthcare System.

Health care executives and academics in Memphis talk more frequently these days about the bigger picture around not just episodic care but taking a much broader look at community-wide health and disparities within communities. Those people include Dr. David Stern, the Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the College of Medicine and vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

In an interview with The Daily News, Stern agreed with Hotz’s position – that the largest percentage of a person’s health care stems from things other than disease and doctor care and the like. There’s a whole range of behavioral health issues Stern said come into play, including the environment a person lives in and stresses within that environment.

“What we’re trying to do is get students to think about how we can change social structures to encourage human health and flourishing,” Hotz said. “I’ll teach courses that will focus on urban studies, on African-American studies, religious studies, and in all of those courses what we’ll be looking at are different components of our social lives and how they shape our possibilities for health. And also how they shape what I would call our health-seeking behaviors. The concrete actions we take and choices we make that contribute to or are obstacles to health.

“The other thing I’ll be doing is working with community partners like Le Bonheur and Church Health and Methodist Healthcare to think about how they can coordinate their efforts so their clinical work is aligned with the social realities in the city.”

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