Sociologist, Dr. Ricky Bluthenthal is excited, he said, to take on his new role as associate dean for Social Justice at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. Currently, Bluthenthal is a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and a member of the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research at the Keck School. In his new role, with specific goals and plans in mind, he will establish an office specifically dealing with social health issues within the dean’s office.
“My early goals include working with some of the educational components that will provide social justice opportunity training for medical school students,” Bluthenthal told the Sentinel in a recent interview.
“We have about 1200 Ph.D. and master’s level students. We want to figure out a way to add social justice work to their current studies or to do actual work to gain social justice experience.”
Bluthenthal isn’t new to this work. It’s something with which he has been involved throughout his career. His body of work is extensive, including studies on sexual behaviors among Black men, tobacco sales and usage and behavioral patterns among drug users.
“One of the themes of sociology is that social systems are not set up to serve the general population but to serve the elite groups,” said Bluthenthal.
“And that creates conflict. The great thing about sociology when it comes to medicine and health, is that it sort of takes you out of that [dynamic]… there are a lot of things you can do to improve the health outcomes for everyone.”
“All people should receive basic benefits from the ‘institutions of society’ based on justice, fairness and the advancements of the public good,” said Laura Mosqueda, MD, dean of the Keck School and professor of family medicine.
“The appointment of Ricky Bluthenthal as associate dean for social justice advances the Keck School’s priority of advocating for local underserved communities and beyond.”
A key first step in the establishment of the new Office of Social Justice will be a “Listening Tour.”
“The dean has asked me to do a listening tour to learn about the things that are already going on in the medical schools and to come up with a set of ideas and potential programs that would deal with not only the quality of care that people would receive but also in terms of dealing with the 60 percent of health determinants that have nothing to do with biology,” Bluthenthal explained.
“Those are things like where you live, issues that are related to the conditions you live under, your level of access to health insurance. Those really determine [if you live and quality of life].”
Bluthenthal said he will engage with community leaders, Keck School and Keck Medicine of USC leaders, faculty, staff and university colleagues in identifying and prioritizing areas of focus.
“It is a great pleasure to lead the Office of Social Justice,” Bluthenthal said.
“This is the first of many steps the Keck School hopes to take toward decreasing disparities and promoting equality in access to quality care and fair policies across the board.”
Bluthenthal received a BA in History and Sociology from the University of California Santa Cruz and a PhD in sociology from the University of California Berkeley. His research has established the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, tested novel interventions and strategies to reduce HIV risk and improve HIV testing among injection drug users and men who has sex with men, documented how community conditions contribute to health disparities, and examined health policy implementation. Bluthenthal has authored or co-authored over 125 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the American Journal of Public Health, Social Science and Medicine, The Lancet, Addiction, and Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.