Following a summer fraught with violence and protests, shining a light on racial injustice and inequities, medical students across the country began calling for a more comprehensive examination of social determinants of health in their education.

In an answer to the growing call to step up efforts to teach how societal structures, policies, and hierarchies influence health outcomes, the McGovern Medical School Office of Diversity and Inclusion has created a Social Justice and Advocacy Longitudinal Theme.

“Much of the momentum and impetus for creating a new Social Justice and Advocacy Longitudinal Theme came from a combination of student demand for a more comprehensive examination of social determinants of health in their education, as well as the widespread national reckoning with racial injustice and societal inequities in the summer of 2020,” said Aibana Omowunmi, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and co-director of the Social Justice and Advocacy Longitudinal Theme.

For a gap analysis, current students at McGovern Medical School provided feedback about priority topics in the current medical school curriculum. Using the information, the theme will coordinate with faculty to enhance education and eventually recognize gaps on health disparities, vulnerable populations, and advocacy.

The eventual goal of the longitudinal is to seamlessly integrate its findings into the McGovern Medical School four-year curriculum, including lectures, small group discussions, hospital and clinical rotations, and more.

“We are looking at creative ways to engage in both live and online module platforms to provide a comprehensive education at all levels of medical education,” said Sandy McKay, MD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and co-director of the theme. “Ultimately, we will weave these new curricula seamlessly into student education to provide the highest quality experiences for our learners.”

Omowunmi and McKay say the response by both students and faculty has been incredibly positive. Students have been forthcoming in their push to get ensure the changes get underway, while many of the faculty have already supported the new theme by helping to create and implement content.

“We hope that fostering critical examination of the societal factors that determine health outcomes from the beginning of medical training contributes one small step toward achieving health equity for all,” Omowunmi said. “By embedding social justice and advocacy throughout all phases of training, we can hopefully empower the next generation of physicians to devise creative solutions to truly mitigate health disparities.”

McKay added, “We can no longer just teach about how to care for patients within the walls of clinics and hospitals, but teach students how to provide comprehensive health care to our patients, and recognize and respond to the influencing factors in our communities on health.”

Various aspects of the Social Justice and Advocacy Longitudinal Theme have already been implemented into the medical school curriculum with more aspects to be added. The theme will tie into current longitudinal themes for medical students.