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LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Define gender and how a gendered society impacts women’s health.

  2. Describe how socioeconomic factors impact daily life of women and their access to quality health care.

  3. Describe the demographic profile of the United States female population.

  4. Explain psychosocial issues that uniquely impact women’s health across the lifespan.

  5. Compare and contrast the various health insurance and prescription medication programs, especially those programs pertinent to women.

  6. Identify and resolve access to care problems for women.

  7. Suggest self-management tools for decreasing stressors that occur more often in women.

INTRODUCTION

Health is shaped by many biopsychosocial factors including genetics, lifestyle, and economics. Healthy women build healthy lives and communities through their daily choices. Health is also shaped by the social environment in which women live and the complicated social interactions that transpire in the world around everyone. The ways women and men think about each other and how they treat each other also influence health. Expectations and rules for human behavior are called social norms. Identifying these norms and understanding how they influence experiences of being female and, in turn, how gender influences health is a central focus of this chapter.

This chapter emphasizes the social and economic dimensions of female health. Unlike biological factors that influence health, social and economic influences are often invisible. However, these factors have a powerful effect on how women feel emotionally and how they go about seeking help for health problems. This chapter focuses on the unique ways in which women experience health and illness and how gender and social and economic factors operate within clinical encounters with health care providers. Practical examples are provided to illustrate the ways by which these factors impact women’s chances to achieve optimal health and well being. The intent is to prepare health care providers to identify and understand these major social and economic factors so they can provide a higher standard of health care to women. Although our focus is on the individual patient, included is some discussion of the way these same factors operate at a population level and subsequently contribute to healthy communities and a healthy nation.

Women’s health is an extensive topic. Vast differences exist between women in terms of their life experiences, access to health care, and overall health status. This chapter will identify and describe the major issues reflecting the diversity of women. Economic and social resources are not equally distributed in society and thus, certain groups of women are at significant risk for poor health outcomes due to social and economic reasons beyond their control. Vulnerable groups will be identified and suggestions will be made to help health care providers remove structural barriers preventing women from accessing beneficial health care services.

Patient Case 1 (Part 1)

Mary and her husband are third-generation dairy farmers living on the family farm with their children, ages 12, 10, and 7 years. The nearest ...

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