Overcoming Barriers to Teaching the Behavioral and Social Sciences to Medical Students

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Most U.S. medical schools offer courses in the behavioral and social sciences (BSS), but their implementation is frequently impeded by problems. First, medical students often fail to perceive the relevance of the BSS for clinical practice. Second, the BSS are vaguely defined and the multiplicity of the topics that they include creates confusion about teaching priorities. Third, there is a lack of qualified teachers, because physicians may have received little or no instruction in the BSS, while behavioral and social scientists lack experience in clinical medicine.The authors propose an approach that may be useful in overcoming these problems and in shaping a BSS curriculum according to the institutional values of various medical schools. This approach originates from insights gathered during their attempts to teach various BSS topics at four Israeli medical schools. They suggest that medical faculties (1) adopt an integrative approach to learning the biomedical, behavioral, and social sciences using Engel's “biopsychosocial model” as a link between the BSS and clinical practice, (2) define a hierarchy of learning objectives and assign the highest priority to acquisition of clinically relevant skills, and (3) develop clinical role models through teacher training programs. This approach emphasizes the clinical relevance of the BSS, defines learning priorities, and promotes cooperation between clinical faculty and behavioral scientists.

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