We are less than a month out from AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting (ARM) this June 24-27! It’s a gorgeous time of year and there is so much to see—no wonder over 2.2 million people call King County home (although many of us do contemplate moving when the winter rain gets a bit dreary…). Get the most out of your experience at ARM by taking in the sights of Seattle.
What you’ll see
From the Seattle Convention Center, you can look southeast up to First Hill or “Pill Hill,” home to four hospitals and countless health providers and services. If you take a stroll there around 7am, you’ll catch a glimpse of some of the thousands of health care workers and health professions students commuting here to provide care to the local community and people all over the Pacific Northwest. From there, head south, walking through thriving communities of immigrants from across the world toward the Chinatown-International District. Uwajimaya is an Asian foods grocery store home to just about any food you can imagine, including a food hall if your tour is making you hungry! Walk west past King Street Station (you’ll see two of our big sports stadiums just south of you), then continue north along the Seattle waterfront. End up at Pike’s Place Market, where stalls full of fish, cheese, flowers, fruits and veggies come from right here in Washington state, as do the many baked goods, gifts, and collectibles you can enjoy.
Seattle Pride takes place during ARM this year! You can attend the Seattle Sounders Pride Match on Saturday evening or check out the Pride Parade between sessions on Sunday. While you celebrate with Pride, be sure to check out some sessions at ARM related to LGBTQ+ health.
What you might not see
As you take in the sights, maybe also take a minute to think about what’s not visible. As you walk around downtown Seattle, it's easy to be distracted by unhoused people on the street, but what we can’t see are the underlying policies and structures that contribute to people losing their homes. At ARM, you can attend sessions looking at strategies to optimize outcomes for this population and considering how we can support policy efforts that make the costs of housing and health care affordable for our communities. We know that addressing social determinants of health is the essential pathway to health equity, but we need to do a better job showing that financial investment in housing, health, and livelihoods results in a stronger community for all.
While addressing the needs of people we see in health care settings can feel overwhelming, as health services researchers and health system leaders we also need to address who we aren’t seeing and why. For example, the close-knit immigrant populations living around may not seek care because our settings don’t offer information, languages or treatment options that meet their cultural needs. People residing in rural and remote areas may not be able to get themselves to a care setting. The migrant workers responsible for the bounty you see at Pike Place Market may fear that accessing care will connect them with government and other entities who will disrupt their livelihood. Look for some interesting ARM sessions on providing better access to care for these types of populations.
Health Care Workers
Doctors in the Seattle area were the first in the US to start looking for and identifying COVID-19 in their patient with strange respiratory illness. As they discovered COVID-19 in those patients, health care workers here had instant changes to jobs, patients, and workplace logistics, as seen in sessions on COVID and the workforce. It’s important to remember that although the pandemic is no longer causing a state of emergency, many of these workers may still be struggling with the emotional repercussions of that time.
As in other areas, Seattle health care workers struggle with high costs of living and timely and affordable access to care, especially those working without benefits. The workers you see need wages that support the costs of living here in the city, as many commute more than 30 minutes or even an hour to get to their shifts. Health professions students are incurring debts that are increasingly difficult to pay off. Although we are making strides in recruiting diverse students into healthcare, we still have work to do in making our learning and working environments inclusive and equitable so students from diverse backgrounds can thrive during school and as new professionals.
While you see workers dedicated to caring for others, the ones you won’t see are those who lost their lives during the pandemic. You won’t see those who have long COVID or other health problems that make it difficult or impossible to work, or those who have been injured on the job, or those who quit because their work environment didn’t support safe care. We know that providing care throughout the pandemic impacted workers, and so our research also needs to focus on taking care of workers.
At the conference, you’ll have the opportunity to hear about projects that touch these different populations and issues facing the field. Use the handy conference guide (2023 Annual Research Meeting (confex.com)) to search for the topics and themes you want to learn about, including social determinants and social needs, structural racism and equity, patient and consumer preferences and needs, and many others. As a workforce researcher, I’m excited to see what methods and datasets other health workforce researchers are using to better understand clinicians’ job movements toward and away from direct patient care.
As health services researchers and practitioners, we not only identify and understand problems, but we can use that knowledge to develop and test better ways to deliver healthcare using strategies from implementation science. ARM provides us opportunities to think about approaches that maximize existing resources. For example, visit the session on the future of Learning Health Systems to think about methods that allow you to capitalize on existing data to make and evaluate practice or policy changes.
As you appreciate the beauty of Seattle and enjoy your time making connections and gaining insights at the conference, take a minute to look more closely and think more deeply about your own community. We hope you leave the Annual Research Meeting invigorated with new strategies, new connections, and perhaps a pastry from Pike Place Market for your loved ones at home.
Seattle sits on the unceded, traditional land of the Coast Salish Peoples, specifically the Duwamish People who are the original stewards of the land, and we honor them with gratitude.