The Social Determinants of Health (SDH) Core enables UAB investigators to measure the effect of social and environmental risks for disease etiology, progression, management, and outcomes, and test interventions that ameliorate their effect. Our services facilitate innovative investigations of genome-sociome-exposome pathways to health and disease through integrated data, methodologies, and expertise from social science, spatial and environmental science, clinical and translational science, genomics, informatics, and epidemiology.

Our Core works to advance research on the impact of Social Determinants of Health, working with teams as they consider the circumstances in which people are born, live, work, and age. To learn more, continue scrolling or click one of the topics below to skip to that section.

Service Request Resources Training Team Oversight Committee History FAQs Contact


We provide the following services and resources to investigators conducting health disparities and SDH research:

Service Request Form

To schedule a consultation or request other services, please complete and submit the form below.

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Please describe your project and how this request fits into your project.(*)
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NOTE: Please DO NOT include any sensitive information, Personally Identifiable Information about study participants (PII), or Protected Health Information (PHI) on this form.
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CALENDAR: Please choose a Monday or Friday between 9:30am - 12:00pm CST. After submitting, a member of our team will reach out to confirm availability.
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*Effort for SDH staff is an acceptable alternative to hourly rate. Vouchers for services may be available through partnering Centers.



We provide training and education to UAB faculty, students, and staff on the use of SDH measures, tools, and data to answer specific research questions. Lectures, seminars, workshops, and short courses can be scheduled on demand or offered as part of existing training programs:

Our Team

Gabriela Oates, PhD – Director

Gabriela Oates, PhD – Director

Dr. Oates, Associate Professor in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, is a social epidemiologist with expertise in sociological theory and research methods focused on the social determinants of health (SDH), and experience in the application of SDH measures, tools, and data for health disparities, outcomes, and health services research.

Elizabeth Baker, PhD – Co-Director

Elizabeth Baker, PhD – Co-Director

Dr. Baker, Associate Professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology, is a quantitative methodologist with a background in demography and expertise in U.S. Census data. She co-leads the SDH Core and manages the SDH Toolkit.

Ariann Nassel, MA, Geospatial Scientist

Ariann Nassel, MA, Geospatial Scientist

Ms. Nassel is the Director of Geospatial Data Visualization at the UAB Lister Hill Center for Health Policy. She is an expert in Census geography, developing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications for research projects, and performing geospatial analysis. She provides HIPAA-compliant geocoding and cartographic mapping. She manages UAB’s Esri ArcGIS site license and leads trainings related to the use of GIS.

Lucia Juarez, PhD, Data Analyst

Lucia Juarez, PhD, Data Analyst

Dr. Juarez is Scientist III in the Heersink School of Medicine and Director of Statistical Computing in the Division of Preventive Medicine. With more than 20 years’ experience managing large multisite cohort studies, she supports the linkage of multilevel SDH and clinical data and supervises a Core statistician in data management, quality control, data analyses, and other tasks.


Carrie R. Howell, PhD, Health System Scientist

Dr. Howell, Assistant Professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine, has experience in integrating clinical, SDH, and behavior data to inform disease prevention and management. She provides expertise in the development of risk prediction models and use of SDH data to inform clinical care and intervention targets.

Robert Johnson, MS, System Analyst

Mr. Johnson, a Senior System analyst in the UAB Informatics Institute, manages the Enterprise Data Warehouse. He assists with queries of inpatient and outpatient data, exporting data in multiple formats, and transforming data for further analysis.  

Oversight Committee

The SDH Core is guided by a 7-member Oversight Committee. Committee members and the stakeholders they represent are listed below:

Name Role, Stakeholder
Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH Director, Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC)
Verna Keith, Ph.D. Chair, Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
Suzanne Judd, Ph.D. Director, Lister Hill Center for Health Policy, School of Public Health (SOPH)
James Cimino, M.D. Director, Informatics Institute
Orlando Gutierrez, M.D., MMSc Co-Director, Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS)
Andrea Cherrington, M.D. MPI, NIMHD P50 Forge AHEAD
Smita Bhatia, M.D. Director, UAB Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship (ICOS)

 History of the Core

The SDH Core was established by the Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC), a University-Wide Interdisciplinary Research Center (UWIRC), in 2014. With additional support from the NIMHD-funded U54 Mid-South Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center for Health Disparities Research, the SDH Core provided: (1) a toolkit with SDH measures, scales, and instruments; (2) SDH data from existing public sources such as the U.S. Census; (3) SDH data specific to the Mid-South region; and (4) methodological expertise on SDH through consultations and seminars. 

In 2018, Core services were expanded through support from the NIMHD-funded U54 Obesity Health Disparities Research Center regional expansion. Specifically, the SDH Toolkit was migrated to Canvas to enhance access, facilitate training, and improve usage tracking. We also expanded the range of SDH concepts and measures in the Toolkit and created comparison tables with the PhenX Toolkit SDH data collections. Additionally, through the OHDRC Common Data Elements Project, we geocoded patient addresses in the UAB EHR and linked them to neighborhood-level SDH measures, with data housed in the Enterprise Data Warehouse and available for queries via i2b2.

In 2020, the SDH Core convened the UAB Social Informatics Workgroup with the goal of (a) enhancing patient-level SDH measures available in the EHR; (b) expanding the suite of area-level SDH measures linked to EHR data and improving the geocoding and geo-linking process; (c) informing the UAB clinical and research communities about the integrated measures; and (d) promoting innovative multidisciplinary research with SDH. Area-level measures were expanded to include variables such as residential segregation, walkability, and social vulnerability, whereas optimized geocoding and linkage reduced missing data from ~25% to <10%. We also categorized clinical events into SDH domains using nomenclature from the Social Interventions Research and Evaluation Network (SIREN) and organized SDH concepts into searchable folders to facilitate use. 

In 2021, we developed a tiered system of Core services and established administrative processes such as online service intake form, Data Use and Services Agreement, and tracking system for service requests, users, and outputs. 

In 2023, with a seed funding from the CCTS, we secured the first campus-wide Esri Geographic Information Systems (GIS) site license, a vital resource for the UAB research community. The license allows all UAB faculty, students, and staff to access the full suite of desktop, mobile, and cloud-based Esri ArcGIS products for geocoding, mapping, data visualization, and spatial analysis. 

In August 2023, the SDH Core was designated as UAB Institutional Research Core in order to meet critical institutional needs efficiently and effectively through pooled resources, operational efficiencies, scaled service delivery, enhanced training opportunities, and expanded reach to investigators at all career stages. 


More information coming soon!


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