Advocacy in action: Medical student reflections of an experiential curriculum

Clin Teach. 2021 Apr;18(2):168-173. doi: 10.1111/tct.13283. Epub 2020 Oct 15.


Introduction: Patient advocacy is a core value in medical education. Although students learn about social determinants of health (SDH) in the pre-clinical years, applying this knowledge to patients during clerkship rotations is not prioritized. Physicians must be equipped to address social factors that affect health and recognize their roles as patient advocates to improve care and promote health equity. We created an experience-based learning curriculum called Advocacy in Action (AiA) to promote the development and application of health advocacy knowledge and skills during an Internal Medicine (IM) clerkship rotation.

Methods: Sixty-six students completed a mandatory curriculum, including an introductory workshop on SDH and patient advocacy using tools for communication, counselling and collaboration skills. They then actively participated in patient advocacy activities, wrote about their experience and joined a small group debriefing about it. Forty-nine written reflections were reviewed for analysis of the impact of this curriculum on student perspectives.

Results: Written reflections had prominent themes surrounding advocacy skills development, meaningful personal experiences, interprofessional dynamics in patient advocacy and discovery of barriers to optimal patient care.

Discussion: AiA is a novel method to apply classroom knowledge of SDH to the clinical setting in order to incorporate advocacy in daily patient care. Students learned about communication with patients, working with interprofessional team members to create better health outcomes and empathy/compassion from this curriculum. It is important to utilize experiential models of individual patient-level advocacy during clerkships so that students can continuously reflect on and integrate advocacy into their future careers.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Clerkship*
  • Curriculum
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Students, Medical*