2nd Annual Colloquium on Population Health & Health Equity: Immigrant Health

In late October, immigrant health was the focus of the 2nd Annual Colloquium on Population Health & Health Equity. The topic was timely, with worldwide migration at historic highs and immigrant detentions continuing to spur controversy in the United States and Mexico. It was also personal: Some presenters shared their experiences as immigrants and first-generation Americans, and many observed how fears of deportation affect their patients’ health.

The symposium — organized by UCSF’s inaugural Vice Dean of Population Health and Health Equity, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, MAS, and co-chaired by Robert Hiatt, MD, PhD and Courtney Lyles, PhD with the help of a steering committee with a broad base of expertise in immigrant health— brought in a full house in Beyers Auditorium, with more than 100 others watching the livestream from across and beyond our UCSF campus.

“Any understanding of human health that doesn’t include the rising tide of migration that we are witnessing will remain incomplete,” Dr. Bibbins-Domingo said.

The day-long event featured a wide range of perspectives.

Eliseo Pérez-Stable, MD, long-time chief of general internal medicine at UCSF, returned to campus from his current post as director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities for a conversation with Dr. Hiatt about NIH priorities related to immigrant health.

The symposium also included 20 community groups that work with immigrants. Breakout sessions encouraged networking to help foster new partnerships between community organizations and UCSF researchers to ensure that health efforts incorporate immigrants’ lived experiences and meet their current needs. A panel of leaders of local community-based organizations that serve immigrants highlighted the importance of university researchers approaching these partnerships as opportunities for two-way learning. “When universities truly and humbly embrace that, I think we have so much more potential for solutions,” said Estela García, DMH, Executive Director of Instituto Familiar de la Raza.

A few key findings in UCSF research highlighted were:

  • Fear of deportation has measurable negative effects on maternal, fetal and child health (Jacqueline Torres, PhD)
  • Socioeconomic status affects the development of the nervous system among Latinx children; Latinx children have elevated rates of anxiety (William Martínez, PhD)
  • Limited-English patients with chronic diseases have better outcomes when their doctors speak their language. Translation services are effective when providing simple medical instructions, but not for complex follow-up care (Alicia Fernández, MD)
  • Training lay health workers within target communities can improve health outcomes among non-English speaking Asian immigrants (Janice Tsoh, PhD)

Participants agreed that UCSF, as a leading academic medical center, needs to do more to safeguard immigrants’ health. Several UCSF campus leaders participated in these discussions, including EVCP Dan Lowenstein and UCSF Health CEO Mark Laret.

Keynote speaker Karthick Ramakrishnan, PhD, a professor of political science and public policy at UC Riverside, called it “an outdated and limited notion” to believe that “the evidence will, almost by itself… lead to the kind of well-informed policy changes that we want to see.” Academics can take stronger, public positions on the human realities behind health data without compromising scientific objectivity, participants agreed. As Tung Nguyen, MD, Professor of Medicine, put it: “‘More research needed’ is a great way to end a paper but it ain’t no way to get rid of health disparities.”

Addressing immigrant health will entail more than speaking out. Challenges such as language barriers and histories of trauma will have to become “part of the budget, part of the functioning of the hospital,” said Zarin Noor, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Oakland.

A recording of the 2nd Annual Colloquium on Population Health & Health Equity: Immigrant Health, as well as the full event program and additional information about immigrant health organizations and resources within and outside UCSF can be found on the 2nd Annual Colloquium on Population Health & Health Equity: Immigrant Health event page.

Photos: Marco Sanchez