Creating an ideal social and behavioural sciences curriculum for medical students

Med Educ. 2010 Dec;44(12):1194-202. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03713.x.


Objectives: Undergraduate medical education programmes universally struggle with overfull curricula that make curricular changes quite challenging. Final content decisions are often influenced by available faculty staff, vocal champions or institutional culture. We present a multi-modal process for identifying 'need-to-know' content while leveraging curricular change, using the social and behavioural sciences (SBS) as an exemplar.

Methods: Several multi-modal approaches were used to identify and triangulate core SBS curricula, including: a national survey of 204 faculty members who ranked the content importance of each of the SBS content areas; a comprehensive review of leading medical SBS textbooks; development of an algorithm to assess the strength of evidence for and potential clinical impact of each SBS construct; solicitation of student input, and review of guidelines from national advocacy organisations. To leverage curricular change, curriculum mapping was used to compare the school's 'actual' SBS curriculum with an 'ideal' SBS curriculum to highlight educational needs and areas for revision. Clinical clerkship directors assisted in translating core SBS content into relevant clinical competencies.

Results: Essential SBS content areas were identified along with more effective and efficient ways of teaching SBS within a medical setting. The triangulation of several methods to identify content raised confidence in the resulting content list. Mapping actual versus ideal SBS curricula highlighted both current strengths and weaknesses and identified opportunities for change.

Conclusions: This multi-modal, several-stage process of generating need-to-know curricular content and comparing it with current practices helped promote curricular changes in SBS, a content area that has been traditionally difficult to teach and is often under-represented. It is likely that this process can be generalised to other emerging or under-represented topic areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Sciences / education*
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Humans
  • Schools, Medical
  • Social Sciences / education
  • United States