Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Institute for Public Health and Medicine

Social Determinants of Health in Family Medicine Residency

The goal of this project is to develop and demonstrate a novel curriculum design in family medicine residency that reinforces comprehensive care in the context of patients' community.

Project Summary

In the following video, Deborah Smith Clements, MD, Chair of Department of Family and Community Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, co-principal investigator on the program, and principal investigator of family medicine residency project discusses the importance of the project.

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Excellent clinical care includes serious consideration of each patient's subjective experience and the impact of the patient's psychological state and social surroundings and requires a curriculum that supports early, robust continuity experience across a diverse spectrum. To achieve the "Triple Aim" and to prepare our primary care physicians of the future, it's crucial to understand that health care should integrate information from both the disease level and the population level as early as possible in residency training. Recent studies indicate that longitudinal patient care experiences in medical school over the course of years rather than weeks result in improved performance, greater learner satisfaction and a strong sense of patient-centeredness in learners. 

Despite long-held family medicine values of developing a continuous, comprehensive relationship with patients in the context of their community, family medicine residency training is largely conducted in a rotation-based curriculum with gradually increasing responsibility for continuity clinic patients over time. We believe that longitudinal exposure to principles of social determinants of health within the context of long-term continuity care relationships across multiple clinical and community settings in family medicine residency will improve residents' approach to patient care and ultimately the health of the community.

Specific Aims

The overall goal of this project is to develop, implement and demonstrate the effectiveness of a novel, longitudinal curriculum design in family medicine residency that reinforces the principles of continuous, comprehensive care in the context of the patient's community. The specific aims in Year 1 are to:

  1. Conduct a needs assessment to identify current gaps in family medicine residency education regarding social determinants of health
  2. Design a 36-month long curriculum that incorporates the concepts of social medicine and care continuity into residency training and practice
  3. Pilot and test feasibility of a "community vital sign" into the electronic health record to increase recognition of social factors impacting a patient's health

Project Team

Principal Investigator

Deborah Clements, MD
Contact Dr. Clements 


Paul Ravenna, MD
Beth Dunlap, MD
Elizabeth Ryan, EdD

Project Manager

Katherine Wright, PhD