Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Center for Primary Care Innovation
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Optimizing Student Learning About the Social Determinants of Health

The goal of this project is to develop a consensus framework for what students need to know about the social determinants of health so that they can be effective clinicians.

Project Summary

In the following video, Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, professor of Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics in the Division of Emergency Medicine, discusses the goals of this project.

Watch this video


It is now well accepted that social determinants impact an individual's ability to live healthy and be healthy. The medical school accreditation body the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the residency and fellowship oversight organization the American College of Graduate Medical Education and the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant all require that curricula include education about the social determinants of health and their influence on well-being. Medical specialty boards, especially those that focus on primary care, have similar expectations that their physicians will consider the impact of social determinants on patients' health when providing care. 

The recognition of the needs to engage and instruct clinicians (in training or practice) regarding the importance of the social determinants of health to improve health and achieve health equity is a major step forward in supporting the goals of the Bureau of Health Workforce, Health Resources and Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But, this recognition is not sufficient to produce domain-specific competence in primary care providers. 

Specific Aims

The overall goals of this project are to identify the current gaps in student training regarding social determinants of health and to determine consensus on best practice that can inform the design of future curricula. The specific aims in Year 1 are to:

  1. Systematically collect educational curriculum and assessment tools related to teaching the social determinants of health (this information will be synthesized and serve as the foundation for Aim 2)
  2. Assemble an expert panel to propose a framework to education students about the social determinants of health and optimal strategies to assess and manage the social determinants of health

Project Team

Publications & Presentations 

Social Determinants of Health in U.S. and Canadian Medical Schools: Commentary

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