Twelve tips for teaching social determinants of health in medicine

Med Teach. 2015 Jul;37(7):647-652. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2014.975191. Epub 2014 Nov 6.


Background: There has been a recent movement towards social accountability in medical schools, which includes integrating the social, economic, and cultural determinants of health into the curriculum. Medical schools and their guiding bodies have met this challenge of educating future physicians to provide effective care to diverse populations with varying response and successes. Because these topics have not been systematically taught in most medical school curricula, strategies are needed to teach them alongside clinical sciences.

Aim and method: We provide 12 tips on how to teach social determinants of health and cultural competency to undergraduate medical students. These recommendations are based on a review of the literature and our experience in developing and delivering a longitudinal course over the last five years.

Conclusion: Medical students must be taught to think critically about the social and cultural issues impacting health, and the intersection with the basic biology and clinical skills. Teaching social determinants of health in medicine requires keeping the material concrete and applicable. Educators must engage students in active learning strategies, reflection, and focus on how to make the material relevant to the clinical care of patients.