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Between the Idea and the Reality: An Intersectional Analysis of the Challenges of Teaching Health Advocacy as a Means to Achieve Social Responsibility in Medicine

Author: Jeannine Girard-Pearlman

Abstract: Canada, like other countries around the world, has health inequities. The literature on social accountability and responsibility urges medical schools to be grounded in the needs of communities to address health inequities. The Canadian professional and regulatory bodies promote the CanMEDS Competencies of which one, the Health Advocate Competency, speaks of addressing community issues. Yet medical schools face challenges actualizing social responsibility and teaching the Health Advocate Competency. Therefore it is important to understand how the teaching of health advocacy and social responsibility is incorporated into the undergraduate curricula of self-defined socially responsible medical schools in Canada. In this study, mixed methods were used beginning with a semi-structured questionnaire administered to undergraduate Course Directors at two medical schools in Canada with a response rate of 74% (n=60). This was followed by a series of open-ended interviews with eleven equity leaders to bring their perspective into the data collection and establish knowledge about frontline intersectional equity work. The major theoretical lens encircling this work was intersectionality which examines historical oppression and how the intersection of gender, race, and class compound health inequities. Questionnaire results made it clear that biomedical ideology and the CanMEDS Medical Expert Competency were privileged in the undergraduate curriculum at the expense of other knowledge such as health advocacy and social responsibility. The objective biomedical discourse ignores or marginalizes important social influences on health which are highlighted by using an intersectional lens. The semi-structured interviews provided rich data about working in an intersectional equity framework highlighting the impact of the intersections of race, gender, class and other identities on health inequities. These interviews also demonstrate the importance of health advocacy in improving health care outcomes and addressing social responsibility. Incorporating intersectionality into previously accepted assessment tools for physicians adds an important dimension to the health care encounter. Explicitly embedding social responsibility and health advocacy in the medical school mission and curriculum is essential to their acceptance. A series of supporting recommendations are offered.

Source: University of Toronto - TSpace

Size: 3.65 MB
Last Updated: August 4, 2015