David Auzenne isn’t just leaping over hurdles to equitable health care — he’s breaking them down. As the director of health equity matrix service lines at Dell Medical School, Auzenne partners with professionally diverse teams to ensure Austin communities have equal opportunities to get and stay healthy.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve, and how did you come to recognize it?
I attended elementary and middle schools far outside my community in Corpus Christi, Texas and remember reflecting on the disparity between my classmates’ abilities to access financial and social resources. It seemed that very few of them experienced barriers to good health — such as unsafe environmental conditions or the consequences of discrimination — while others' health was impacted quite deeply by their environment, in addition to reduced access to care.
I later learned that these differences can be attributed to health inequities. The World Health Organization defines health inequities as systematic differences in the opportunities groups have to achieve optimal health, leading to unfair and avoidable differences in health outcomes.
I landed at Dell Med with the goal of creating opportunities for disadvantaged communities to achieve the same level of health as our healthiest populations. Achieving this goal requires a systems-based approach with coordination between health care, public health, social services, business and government, as well as academic and community-based organizations.
What kinds of health inequities need to be addressed in Austin?
Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. The geographic distribution of low to high household incomes nearly overlaps with the distribution of individuals with low to high chronic disease prevalence — as well as low to high access to health care.
Health professionals should recognize and understand structural forces — such as residential racial segregation as a predictor of disparate health outcomes — and intervene at the personal, policy and system levels to address disparities.
How are you helping to close these gaps?
I have the honor of serving on Dell Med’s Office of Health Equity team. We’re working to establish a culture that enables departments to embed health equity into their operating principles. One such effort is our series of Health Equity Forums, where local, state and national health equity leaders engage in robust conversations with students, faculty and staff.
As a part of the Health Equity Strategic Map, I had the pleasure of working with Department of Medical Education leadership to design a new health equity domain with enabling objectives that can be integrated throughout a student’s four years of medical school. I am also actively designing a health professions pipeline program, prioritizing elementary and middle school students who are a part of underrepresented groups in the health workforce.
What makes you positioned to tackle health equity issues?
When I was starting graduate school, I was in a near-fatal car accident. I've had 13 surgeries. My career could have been over before it started. I've had to be physically and mentally resilient to persevere in the face of adversity. For two decades, this resiliency has helped me navigate dynamic local, state and national health policies and practices to advance my work.
I’ve been able to apply my public health expertise to help build capacity for departments to center health equity in their work. My colleagues in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Population Health, Health and Social Work and the Healthscape — Dell Med’s fourth mission pillar — share in this effort.