The Evolving Role of Public Health in Medical Education

Front Public Health. 2020 Jun 26;8:251. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00251. eCollection 2020.


Medical education in the twentieth century was largely influenced by the Flexner Report, with significant proportions of instruction dedicated to the molecular underpinnings of the pathologic pathways and minimal mention of the socio-ecological determinants of health. When examining the predominant diseases of the twenty first century landscape, widening health disparities, and significant changes in the United States healthcare system, it is imperative to view wellness and sickness in a broader public health context rather than a singular focus of the biomedical model. While undergraduate opportunities to study public health are on the rise in the United States, there is a parallel urgency for medical curricula to recognize the importance of the complex interrelated socio-ecological root causes of health, well-being, and illness. In order to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases and increase health equity, it is necessary for medical education to integrate core public health knowledge and competencies. Contemporary health challenges require a public health approach, in addition to clinical skills, for physicians to provide equitable care. The COVID-19 pandemic further underscores the necessity to mitigate the effects of socio-ecological determinants of health. Seven key recommendations are presented from a training to practice timeline emphasizing the important linkages between medical education, socio-ecological influences on health, and public health. As the health challenges in society and communities shift, so too must training of future physicians. There is a need and an opportunity for medicine and public health to address the shared health challenges of our global society.

Keywords: education; health equity; premedical; public health; socio-ecological.