Teaching the Social Determinants of Health in Undergraduate Medical Education: a Scoping Review

Ashti Doobay-Persaud*, Mark D. Adler, Tami R. Bartell, Natalie E. Sheneman, Mayra D. Martinez, Karen A. Mangold, Patricia Smith, Karen M. Sheehan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Background: To provide optimal care, medical students should understand that the social determinants of health (SDH) impact their patients’ well-being. Those charged with teaching SDH to future physicians, however, face a paucity of curricular guidance. Objective: This review’s objective is to map key characteristics from publications about teaching SDH to students in undergraduate medical education (UME). Methods: In 2016, the authors searched PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, the Cochrane and ERIC databases, bibliographies, and MedEdPORTAL for articles published between January 2010 and November 2016. Four reviewers screened articles for eligibility then extracted and analyzed data descriptively. Scoping review methodology was used to map key concepts and curricular logistics as well as educator and student characteristics. Results: The authors screened 3571 unique articles of which 22 were included in the final review. Many articles focused on community engagement (15). Experiential learning was a common instructional strategy (17) and typically took the form of community or clinic-based learning. Nearly half (10) of the manuscripts described school-wide curricula, of which only three spanned a full year. The majority of assessment was self-reported (20) and often related to affective change. Few studies objectively assessed learner outcomes (2). Conclusions: The abundance of initial articles screened highlights the growing interest in SDH in medical education. The small number of selected articles with sufficient detail for abstraction demonstrates limited SDH curricular dissemination. A lack of accepted tools or practices that limit development of robust learner or program evaluation was noted. Future research should focus on identifying and evaluating effective instructional and assessment methodologies to address this gap, exploring additional innovative teaching frameworks, and examining the specific contexts and characteristics of marginalized and underserved populations and their coverage in medical education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)720-730
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 15 2019


  • health equity
  • scoping review
  • social determinants of health
  • undergraduate medical education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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