The Role of Primary Care in Advancing Civic Engagement and Health Equity: A Conceptual Framework

Original Scholarship
Primary Care

Policy Points:

  • Health and civic engagement are reciprocally and longitudinally linked: Poor health is associated with less civic engagement. Well-established social drivers of health and health inequality such as inadequate access to health care, poverty, racism, housing instability, and food insecurity are also drivers of lower civic engagement.
  • A robust primary care system can play a key role in advancing civic engagement (e.g., voting, volunteerism, community service, and political involvement) at the population level but has received little attention.
  • Policy and practice solutions at the individual and structural levels should support and leverage potential synergies among health equity, civic engagement, and primary care.

Context: Health and civic engagement are linked. Healthier people may be able to participate more fully in civic life, although those with poorer health may be motivated to address the roots of their health challenges using collective action. In turn, civically active people may experience better health, and societies with more equitable health and health care may experience healthier civic life. Importantly, a robust primary care system is linked to greater health equity. However, the role of primary care in advancing civic engagement has received little study.

Methods: We synthesize current literature on the links among health, civic engagement, and primary care. We propose a conceptual framework to advance research and policy on the role of primary care in supporting civic engagement as a means for individuals to actualize their health and civic futures.

Findings: Current literature supports relationships between health equity and civic engagement. However, this literature is primarily cross-sectional and confined to voting. Our integrative conceptual framework highlights the interconnectedness of primary care structures, health equity, and civic engagement and supports the crucial role of primary care in advancing both civic and health outcomes. Primary care is a potentially fruitful setting for cultivating community and individual health and power by supporting social connectedness, self-efficacy, and collective action.

Conclusions: Health and civic engagement are mutually reinforcing. Commonalities between social determinants of health and civic engagement constitute an important convergence for policy, practice, and research. Responsibility for promoting both health and civic engagement is shared by providers, community organizations, educators, and policymakers, as well as democratic and health systems, yet these entities rarely work in concert. Future work can inform policy and practice to bolster primary care as a means for promoting health and civic engagement.


Habib DRS, Klein LM, Perrin EM, Perrin AJ, Johnson SB. The Role of Primary Care in Advancing Civic Engagement and Health Equity: A Conceptual Framework. Milbank Q. 2023;101(3):0722.