By Wendy Sarubbi | June 27, 2024 2:47 pm

How and where humans live has a direct impact on their health, and a new College of Medicine Population Health Sciences faculty member recently received national recognition for his work to improve people’s social environment for better wellness.

Dr. Nolan Kline was honored as a fellow of the Society for Applied Anthropology, an organization dedicated to researching how the relationships humans have with one another influences their lives, including their health. Fellowship is a recognition of Dr. Kline’s research and expertise in using behavioral science to address societal issues.

He received his Ph.D. and master’s degrees in public health and applied anthropology at the University of South Florida. But he said his passion for helping the underserved was ignited when he was an undergraduate student at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. That’s when he met Jeannie Economos of Farmworkers Association of Florida, and saw the healthcare needs of farmworkers who work in Apopka, the self-proclaimed “indoor foliage capital of the world.”

Dr. Nolan Kline

Many of the farmworkers work in greenhouses and fields that grow houseplants and ornamentals that decorate homes, landscaping and offices around the country. There they are exposed to pesticides and hard physical labor in Florida’s heat and sun. Many are immigrants with little or no access to healthcare. Many do not have transportation to get to a doctor. For those reasons healthcare students and faculty from UCF’s Academic Health Sciences Center conduct free clinics at the association, where they do health screenings, physical therapy, social work counseling and medical referrals.

While people generally consider anthropology to be the study of ancient civilizations, Dr. Kline said, medical anthropology looks at “what it is to be human and how your social and cultural environment contributes to your health.”

Physicians and scientists know that a person’s zip code – where they live – has a greater impact on their health than their biological and genetic makeup. People who live in low-income communities that are plagued by violence and pollution and lack access to stores with fresh, whole foods die younger than those who are more advantaged. Population health sciences experts study these disparities, called the social determinants of health, and seek to find solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted those disparities as people of color, those working in the service industry who could not work remotely, and those without access to healthcare died in higher numbers proportionately than others.

Dr. Kline has done healthcare disparity research in a number of communities, including in LGBTQ+ populations and immigrants. He has worked with community organizations on ways to get more Hispanic women screened for the HPV virus, which causes almost all cervical cancers as well as other malignancies. He has also been active in community-based participatory research, where scientists collaborate equally with community members and local organizations to conduct meaningful studies to both.

“Healthcare disparities are a complicated, multifaceted problem,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us working together to solve these issues.”

Dr. Kline joined the UCF College of Medicine last October, after serving in faculty positions at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Purdue University and Rollins.

Dr. Eric Schrimshaw chairs UCF’s Population Health Sciences Department. He said he was delighted with Dr. Kline’s honor. “Fellow is a major milestone for academics that recognizes exceptional achievements and success in the field,” he said.  “As a department, we are dedicated to creating interdisciplinary faculty collaborations that seek solutions to public health problems. This is why we were excited to recruit Dr. Kline to the College of Medicine. I look forward to witnessing his continued collaborations and contributions to Orlando and Florida communities.”

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