IOM Expert Committee Says Med Schools Should Incorporate Social and Behavioral Sciences Throughout Four Years

Study on introducing social and behavioral sciences into medical school curricula

The scientific evidence for the impact of behavioral and social factors on health is substantial. Unfortunately, many physicians do not understand research findings in this area, their underlying principles and their medical impact.

From 2002 to 2004, the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine convened an expert committee to address several challenges that medical schools will face in attempting to incorporate the behavioral and social sciences into medical school curricula. The committee's report, entitled Improving Medical Education: Enhancing the Behavioral and Social Science Content of Medical School Curricula, is available online.

Key Results and Recommendations: The Committee on Behavioral and Social Sciences in Medical School Curricula met five times between 2002 and 2003. Key questions addressed included:

  • Current Approaches: What are medical schools teaching students about the behavioral and social sciences?
  • Medical School Curricula: What topics from the behavioral and social sciences should medical schools include in their curricula?
  • Strategies for Incorporation: What are the barriers to incorporating behavioral and social science content into medical school curricula, and how can schools overcome these barriers?

The committee's activities included 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 Web sites and a variety of other sources.

The committee's final report-entitled Improving Medical Education: Enhancing the Behavioral and Social Science Content of Medical School Curricula—is available online. Key recommendations reported there include:

  • The committee found that there is inadequate information available to describe behavioral and social science curriculum content, teaching techniques, and assessment methodologies in U.S. medical schools sufficiently, and recommends development of a new national behavioral and social science database.
  • Medical schools should provide students with an integrated behavioral and social science curriculum that extends throughout the four years of medical school. The committee identified 26 topics in six behavioral and social science domains that it believes should be included in medical school curricula.
  • To help overcome multiple barriers to the incorporation of the behavioral and social sciences into medical school curricula, the committee recommends that the National Institutes of Health or private foundations establish behavioral and social sciences career development and curriculum development awards.
  • Concerned that the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination places insufficient emphasis on test items related to the behavioral and social sciences, the committee recommends that the National Board of Medical Examiners ensure that the exam adequately covers the behavioral and social science subject matter recommended in this report.

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