Addressing the social determinants of health in undergraduate medical education curricula: A survey report

Joy H. Lewis, Onelia G. Lage, B. Kay Grant, Senthil K. Rajasekaran, Mekbib Gemeda, Robert C. Like, Sally Santen, Michael Dekhtyar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Purpose: Social determinants of health (SDH) are recognized as important factors that affect health and well-being. Medical schools are encouraged to incorporate the teaching of SDH. This study investigated the level of commitment to teaching SDH; learning objectives/ goals regarding student knowledge, skills, and attitudes; location in the curriculum and teaching strategies; and perceived barriers to teaching SDH. Methods: A team from the American Medical Association’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium developed a 23-item inventory survey to document consortium school SDH curricula. The 32 consortium schools were invited to participate. Results: Twenty-nine (94%) schools responded. Most respondents indicated the teaching of SDH was low priority (10, 34%) or high priority (12, 41%). Identified learning objectives/ goals for student knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding SDH were related to the importance of students developing the ability to identify and address SDH and recognizing SDH as being within the scope of physician practice. Curricular timing and teaching strategies suggested more SDH education opportunities were offered in the first and second undergraduate medical education years. Barriers to integrating SDH in curricula were identified: addressing SDH is outside the realm of physician responsibility, space in curriculum is limited, faculty lack knowledge and skills to teach material, and concepts are not adequately represented on certifying examinations. Conclusion: Despite the influence of SDH on individual and population health, programs do not routinely prioritize SDH education on par with basic or clinical sciences. The multi-tude of learning objectives and goals related to SDH can be achieved by increasing the priority level of SDH and employing better teaching strategies in all years. The discordance between stated objectives/goals and perceived barriers, as well as identification of the variety of strategies utilized to teach SDH during traditional “preclinical” years, indicates curricular areas in need of attention.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)369-377
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Medical Education and Practice
StatePublished - 2020


  • Barriers to teaching
  • Health system science
  • Social factors
  • Teaching strategies


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