Bringing abstract concepts to life: A health humanities–based approach to teaching social determinants of health

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Background: To address health inequities, emergency physicians must understand the structural underpinnings of health disparities, including social determinants of health (SDoH), and must critically reflect on the integration of SDoH into clinical practice. SDoH education should include reflective knowledge acquisition, while incorporating systemic sociohistorical forces and individual factors, such as bias, which propagate inequities but are rarely emphasized in graduate medical education (GME). The health humanities (HH), an inclusive transdisciplinary field combining arts, humanities, and social justice, may represent a novel unexplored approach toward incorporating SDoH in GME. Methods: We sought to implement and evaluate a GME HH-based curriculum focused on SDoH. An interprofessional team applied Kern's framework to create a longitudinal HH curriculum integrating narrative medicine and visual thinking strategies with evidence-based practices for addressing SDoH in clinical practice. This curriculum was implemented for 52 residents in an EM program in 2019–2020; sessions were initially held in the classroom and community and then virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Objectives included encouraging (1) critical thinking about SDoH, (2) engagement with patients and communities, (3) self-reflection, and (4) translation of SDoH to patient care. Descriptive statistics and a constructivist paradigm were applied to results of a postcurriculum survey and focus group, respectively. Results: A curriculum evaluation survey completed by 32/52 residents (61.5%) revealed agreement (75%–90%) that objectives were met. 93.1% of respondents thought humanities were important in residency training. Qualitative analysis of a focus group with 10 participants revealed additional impacts on individual growth, transformation of departmental culture, and transformation of patient care. Curriculum implementation was inexpensive and relied on interprofessional collaboration. Conclusions: The HH represent a promising collaborative framework for integrating SDoH in GME and may inspire transformation of learners’ attitudes and practices in EM, though clinical impacts still need to be established.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10934
JournalAEM Education and Training
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Education
  • Emergency


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