Teaching Social Determinants of Health Through Mini-Service Learning Experiences

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This resource is a service learning field experience designed to engage students in the social determinants of health. Social determinants are recognized as important contributors to the health of individuals and populations. Social determinants include environmental factors such as air quality and housing, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment. Patient-centered physicians recognize how patients' social contexts influence their lives, impacts the choices their patients are able to make, and in turn affects clinicians' management. Field experiences with underserved populations provide excellent opportunities for medical students to learn in a real-world setting about the social determinants, particularly when constructed in a service learning framework of preparation, service, and postservice reflection. While service learning traditionally includes a longitudinal relationship between the learner and the experience, we have found impressive results through a “mini-service learning experience” consisting of a onetime, 3- to 4-hour field experience. This experience, when combined with preparation and reflection, has helped to cement the concepts and importance of the social determinants in ways that readings, in-class activities, or lecture presentations have difficulty accomplishing. A mini-service learning opportunity for an entire class of students (145 at the author's institution) requires a degree of work, but it is much less organizational work than a standard service learning would require. In this way, a short service learning experience, while likely limited in its impact, is a reasonable option for faculty interested in introducing learners to the importance and relevance of social determinants


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