Training Internal Medicine Residents in Social Medicine and Research-Based Health Advocacy: A Novel, In-Depth Curriculum

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Health disparities are pervasive worldwide. Physicians have a unique vantage point from which they can observe the ways social, economic, and political factors impact health outcomes and can be effective advocates for enhanced health outcomes and health equity. However, social medicine and health advocacy curricula are uncommon in postgraduate medical education.


In academic year (AY) 2012, the Cambridge Health Alliance internal medicine residency program transformed an elective into a required social medicine and research-based health advocacy curriculum. The course has three major innovations: it has a yearlong longitudinal curriculum, it is required for all residents, and all residents complete a group research-based health advocacy project within the curricular year. The authors describe the structure, content, and goals of this curriculum.


Over the last four years (AYs 2012–2015), residents (17/32; 53%) have rated the overall quality of the course highly (mean = 5.2, where 6 = outstanding; standard deviation = 0.64). In each year since the new course has been implemented, all scholarly work from the course has been presented at conferences by 31 resident presenters and/or coauthors. The course seems to enhance the residency program’s capacity to recruit high-caliber residents and faculty members.

Next Steps

The authors are collecting qualitative and quantitative data on the impact of the course. They will use their findings to advocate for a national health advocacy competency framework. Recommendations about how to initiate or further develop social medicine and health advocacy curricula are offered.

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