Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Institute for Public Health and Medicine

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 M Sheehan, MD, MPH, Department of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, discusses the goals of this project.

Read Video Transcript


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 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, HRSA, and HHS. 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. The 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

Principal Investigator

Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH
Contact Dr. Sheehan


Mark Adler, MD
Ashti Doobay-Persaud, MD
Karen Mangold, MD, MEd

Project Coordinator

Tami Bartell

Publications & Presentations 

Social Determinants of Health in US and Canadian Medical Schools: Commentary