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Des Moines University

To gain a better understanding of cross-sectoral approaches to addressing the social determinants of health, AAHC is interviewing individuals from organizations that utilize non-healthcare approaches to improve health. Here, we look at organizations involved in medical-legal partnerships.

An interview with Pamela A. Duffy and Yogesh Shah

Pamela A. Duffy, PT, PhD, MEd, OCS, RP, FAPTA
Assistant Professor, Global Health, Des Moines University

Yogesh Shah, MD, MPH, FAAFM
Associate Dean, Global Health, Des Moines University

Describe what you do for work and the vision/mission of your organization.

Dr. Shaw is responsible for the deployment of the strategic plan in global health for the entire university including educational opportunities, scholarships, internships, and rotations for the three colleges and nine academic programs at the university.  He is the Des Moines University representative for the AARP-DMU partnership for the World Health Organization Age Friendly City initiative, the Greater Des Moines Partnership Capital Crossroads Health Committee, and the Polk County Continuum of Care, addressing homelessness in Greater Polk County.

Dr. Duffy’s areas of research include interprofessional education, health services resource use, and access to health care for immigrants and refugees.  Her teaching responsibilities include the U.S. health care system and courses on global health foundations, practices, policies, and partnerships for the Master of Public Health Program.  With her dual appointment to the Department of Global Health at the DMU College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Duffy is a faculty advisor for the student-facilitated Global Health Learning Collaborative, an interactive exploration of current issues in global health to prepare students for medical service trips.

The mission of Des Moines University is to improve lives in our global community by educating diverse groups of highly competent and compassionate health professionals.  Our vision is for Des Moines University to be the leader in innovative health education that promotes lifelong learning, a cultivator of distinctive faculty and student researchers who discover and disseminate new knowledge, a leader and partner of choice in the delivery of services that enhance health, wellness, and education in our communities, and a policy consultant and catalyst in healthy community transformation. 

Tell us about the socio-demographic and socioeconomic factors and conditions in the community, population, or constituency you or your organization serves.

As an academic health center, faculty and students are engaged in community-based scholarship and service through student clubs, research, and education.  Through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Global Health Department, and the Community Service Department the entire DMU organization is made aware of opportunities for outreach and service.

The DMU community-outreach is broad and primarily geared toward low-income, at-risk, and underserved populations, groups that serve those populations, as well as health care advocacy groups in the immediate Des Moines, IA metropolitan area. 

Des Moines University engages with a number of nonprofit organizations through community outreach and service initiatives and on events that support the mission and vision of the University. DMU partnerships with an array of organizations, and employees are encouraged to make use of community service leave for volunteer opportunities that occur during work hours.

What is the link between the social determinants of health and your work?

Dr. Duffy and Dr. Shah integrate social determinants of health throughout their teaching, research, and service.  Curriculum explicitly addresses health disparities within Iowa as well as globally.  Students are prepared for medical service trips with a curriculum that addressed SDOH each fall.

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Can you provide one or two examples of programs or activities that you are currently working on that is/are aimed at addressing an aspect of the social determinants of health?

On an academic level, Dr. Duffy is conducting community-based participatory research on access to health care for immigrant and refugee communities in central Iowa.  Other faculty, such as Dr. Simon Geletta, Associate Professor in the MPH Program, is engaged with communities on walkability studies.   Dr. Shah has convened a local city group to address impacts of climate change on central Iowa, and is an active participant in not-for-profit organizations addressing the environment, homelessness, aging, and dementia.

One example of a campus-wide activity is the Global Health Learning Collaborative.  This is a semester long set of interactive weekly sessions, led by student peers, and facilitated by Dr. Duffy and Dr. Shah.  It provides interprofessional education by bringing together faculty and students from public and private universities to discuss global health issues.  Programs represented include osteopathic medicine, physical therapy, public health, pharmacy, podiatric medicine, biological sciences, physician assistant studies, global health, and other related programs.  The programs address structural and governance that contribute to factors impacting global health.  Social determinants of health are addressed throughout the seminar series.

What are you goals for the program(s)? How do you measure and evaluate these goals?

The goals for the DMU academic programs are to help all students to acquire the following competencies:

  • Value the human experience with sensitivity to individual and cultural differences
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the science of human health and well being
  • Manifest dedication to the highest standards of professionalism
  • Display an ability to work collaboratively
  • Demonstrate an understanding of research methodology and its relationship to critical thinking

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How do you financially sustain these programs?

Many of these programs are conducted through the global health department which has annual budget and funds donated by donors. 


Are there additional resources or partners needed to accomplish these goals? What are they?

There are local agencies that assist with resettlement, health system navigation, and health education for refugees in central Iowa.  With additional resources, more faculty time could be devoted to developing training materials for patient navigators, community health workers, as well as evaluation and assessment tools to demonstrate the outcomes of these initiatives.  Additional resources would fund additional global and domestic service trips for graduate health professions students.

What opportunities do you see for connecting your work with the work of academic health centers?

The work with community partners directly relates to curriculum design for all of the DMU academic programs.  Through community-engaged scholarship and service learning, students have the opportunity to participate on interprofessional teams, develop skills that translate to interprofessional practice, and become more culturally competent.  Community partners allow the university to introduce and reinforce how social determinants of health can be addressed.

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“The mission of Des Moines University is to improve lives in our global community by educating diverse groups of highly competent and compassionate health professionals.  ”


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