Promoting Health Equity Through Social Media

by Jonathan Bell

Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.

Jonathan Bell presenting his research on the utilization of social media for health disparities education to the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute

STUDENT VOICES — Thankfully, “health equity” is becoming a more commonly used phrase in the health care field. People are beginning to see that not everyone is granted the same resources, living environment, and privileges as the majority, and as such, we need to reach those without such privileges and do what we can to close that gap. As a white/American Indian male from a financially stable and supportive family, health equity was a concept I could not grasp until I began studying public health at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Learning more about things like “social determinants of health” and “health risk factors” really altered how I viewed medicine for the general public.

After I received my degree, I took an internship position at the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity (MACHE), part of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. During my time at MACHE, my understanding of health equity has continued to grow and my understanding of this phenomenon has become more pertinent and real. At the beginning of my internship, I participated in a community tour with medical students, meeting with community agencies and stakeholders who shared about living in food deserts, systemic poverty, and environmental health factors. As a native from the area, I was given the chance to see and learn how people I come in contact with every day are disenfranchised from the medical community.

During my time with MACHE, I have been able to integrate health equity with social media, which I strongly believe is an important tool for health communication. By conducting research on social media best practices for public health professionals, including current usage and effective modalities, I was able to construct a comprehensive report on how social media can be used to further close the gap of health disparities. In this field, there has been a particular focus on how social media can be used to educate cancer patients who live in rural areas or identify as a racial/ethnic minority. Social media is only now being recognized as an effective tool in the public health world, an issue that made my work more difficult when attempting to find literature around the topic. Nonetheless, as social media becomes a more common part of professional communication, we will begin to see it being used more and more effectively. It’s imperative that public health professionals use cultural sensitivity in crafting their social media messages as well as being aware of their audience to best know what information would be most culturally relevant to the people receiving the messages.

Infographic by Jonathan Bell

In addition to research on social media, I have had the chance to partner with the North Carolina American Indian Health Board to assist in a number of efforts around American Indian health disparities. Working with the board and the NC Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, I designed infographics about American Indian health disparities, helped to develop an upcoming tribal health assessment, and traveled to Denver, Colorado, to attend the First Annual National Native Health and Research Training Initiative. As an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, it has been a huge honor to work alongside my tribal members to make our needs known to the public and promote positive change. The Lumbee Tribe, as well as American Indians in North Carolina as a whole, experience the largest disparities in mortality rates due to opioid overdose and diabetes than any other racial population in the state.

Jonathan Bell and Dr. Jocelyn Elders, previous US Surgeon General, at the NC Equity Impact Awards Ceremony hosted by the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities

I hope to continue my work in promoting health equity by pursuing a degree in clinical mental health counseling. My passion for counseling came from personally experiencing the benefits of counseling. It was no easy task for me to admit that I needed help and overcome the fear and stigma that was irrationally attached to it. I hope to work with underserved communities to end stigmas around therapy and to help patients process through issues like historical trauma, racism, and homophobia. It is my opinion that mental health is one of the areas that is seeing the most significant lack of health equity and has gone unchecked for too long.

Public health can appear to be a confusing and vague field of study, especially while in the classroom. It’s not until you see in the community around you how public health can change the way you view your everyday world that you begin to understand.

Jonathan Bell is serving as a health promotion intern at the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity within the Wake Forest School of Medicine. He graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017 with a degree in Health Promotion. He has partnered with the North Carolina American Indian Health Board and the North Carolina Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. In September 2017, he received the NC Health Equity Impact Student Award from the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. He is currently in the process of applying to master’s programs to pursue a degree in mental health counseling. Jonathan can be contacted at and please connect with him on LinkedIn.