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Improving Medical Education: Enhancing the Behavioral and Social Science Content of Medical School Curricula
Review the approaches used by medical schools that have tried to incorporate the behavioral and social sciences into their curricula.
Develop a list of prioritized topics from the behavioral and social sciences for possible inclusion in medical school curricula. As an alternative to a numerical list, clustered priorities (e.g., top, high, medium, and low) may be assigned to topic areas.
Provide options for how changes in curricula can be achieved, such as encouraging the leadership of medical schools to incorporate behavioral and social sciences, funding opportunities that would achieve this goal, or other novel approaches that would achieve this aim. In developing these options, the barriers to implementing curricula change and approaches to overcome these barriers should be considered.
The committee met five times between December 2002 and October 2003 and cast a broad net to capture the relevant information. It held public meetings with medical schools and other organizations to explore and discuss relevant information regarding the status of the teaching of the behavioral and social sciences in medical schools. The committee also reviewed and considered information from the published literature, medical school websites, and a variety of other sources. (See Appendix A for details regarding the methods used by the committee in conducting this study.)
CURRENT STATE OF THE BEHAVIORAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES IN CURRICULA OF U.S. MEDICAL SCHOOLS
U.S. medical schools appear to be moving toward incorporating the behavioral and social sciences into their curricula in some way, and international efforts are under way to systematically include the behavioral and social sciences as part of the foundations of medical education (IIME, 2003). It is difficult to document with certainty, however, how much behavioral and social science is currently being taught in U.S. medical schools. This is the case because definitions of what constitutes the behavioral and social sciences vary, and difficulties abound in identifying medical school courses that include such components. For the purposes of this report, the behavioral and social sciences as applied to medicine are ideally defined as those research-based disciplines that provide physicians with empirically verifiable knowledge that serves as a foundation for understanding and influencing individual, group, and societal actions relevant to improving and maintaining health.
In reviewing the curricular content across U.S. medical schools, it became evident to the committee that there is significant variability in the teaching of the behavioral and social sciences: course titles differ; the number of hours of instruction varies; course content is inconsistent; the timing of instruction during the undergraduate experience differs (AAMC, 2003a; Milan et al., 1998; Muller,