Health Systems Science in Medical Education: Unifying the Components to Catalyze Transformation

Jed D. Gonzalo, Anna Chang, Michael Dekhtyar, Stephanie R. Starr, Eric Holmboe, Daniel R. Wolpaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Medical education exists in the service of patients and communities and must continually calibrate its focus to ensure the achievement of these goals. To close gaps in U.S. health outcomes, medical education is steadily evolving to better prepare providers with the knowledge and skills to lead patient- and systems-level improvements. Systems-related competencies, including high-value care, quality improvement, population health, informatics, and systems thinking, are needed to achieve this but are often curricular islands in medical education, dependent on local context, and have lacked a unifying framework. The third pillar of medical education - health systems science (HSS) - complements the basic and clinical sciences and integrates the full range of systems-related competencies. Despite the movement toward HSS, there remains uncertainty and significant inconsistency in the application of HSS concepts and nomenclature within health care and medical education. In this Article, the authors (1) explore the historical context of several key systems-related competency areas; (2) describe HSS and highlight a schema crosswalk between HSS and systems-related national competency recommendations, accreditation standards, national and local curricula, educator recommendations, and textbooks; and (3) articulate 6 rationales for the use and integration of a broad HSS framework within medical education. These rationales include: (1) ensuring core competencies are not marginalized, (2) accounting for related and integrated competencies in curricular design, (3) providing the foundation for comprehensive assessments and evaluations, (4) providing a clear learning pathway for the undergraduate-graduate-workforce continuum, (5) facilitating a shift toward a national standard, and (6) catalyzing a new professional identity as systems citizens. Continued movement toward a cohesive framework will better align the clinical and educational missions by cultivating the next generation of systems-minded health care professionals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1362-1372
Number of pages11
JournalAcademic Medicine
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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