The President's Message

President's Message, Bruce Jarrell

Each month, The President’s Message updates the UMB community on University initiatives; spotlights faculty, staff, and student achievements; and promotes upcoming UMB events.

President’s Fellows Explore Health Literacy as a Social Determinant of Health

June 2021

Understanding health information has taken on special importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local, national, and global news is dominated by COVID-19, but misinformation and health disparities continue to be urgent issues. The ability to understand and use information available to make informed decisions about health varies. Health literacy affects how people apply health information in important ways, and health literacy levels dramatically impact patient outcomes.

The 2020-2021 President’s White Paper Project engaged nine students from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) School of Public Health on a yearlong research project and conversation on topics important to the University community. This year’s project focused on health literacy as a social determinant of health.

The White Paper Project centers on expanding the University’s role in improving the relationship between provider and patient, allowing patients to be well-informed and active decision-makers in their own health and the health of their families.

To better understand health literacy as a social determinant of health, seven of the President’s Fellows participated as MPower scholars for a summer research program where they met with health literacy experts, examined health literacy’s role in their disciplines, and reviewed educational literature to capture if and how health literacy was taught. This research continued into the fall as part of the President’s Symposium and White Paper Project with two additional students joining the interprofessional team.

The fellows interviewed administrators, faculty, and staff to establish the current state of teaching health literacy at UMB and UMCP. They used faculty questionnaires in conjunction with content such as syllabi, website information, and course catalogs to document existing courses and other educational interventions such as clinical experiences, clerkships, simulations, and lab experiences available to the disciplines. The fellows also conducted unstructured conversations with community organizations and students to identify other opportunities, such as service-learning or volunteer experiences, that may train students to use health literacy practices.

The President’s Symposium Series invited experts to share with the fellows and the broader UMB and UMCP communities. I want to thank this year’s speakers — Leana Wen, MD, MSc; Alash’le Abimiku, PhD, MA; Wilma Alvarado-Little, MA, MSW; Christopher Trudeau, JD; Dean Schillinger, MD; Denise Rodgers, MD, FAAFP; and Steven Chen, PharmD, FASHP, FCSHP, FNAP — for sharing their knowledge and expertise.

The fellows developed a list of recommendations centered on the major themes of education, research, community engagement, and collaboration to address health literacy as a social determinant of health and use an empathetic, interprofessional approach to meet the University’s and surrounding community’s health literacy needs. I hope that you will read the paper and think about how health literacy impacts your work and life.

I want to congratulate the 2020-2021 President’s Fellows for their thoughtful work. A health-literate society is an important part of improving the human condition.


Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS