Social Responsibility: A value embraced and lived

“Never in my life have I been surrounded by so much enthusiasm, encouragement and thoughtfulness, as I have at medical school,” said Ben Langer, Medicine Class of 2015.

He credits the strong focus placed on the School’s value of social responsibility as a major contributing factor.

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, academic director, Global Health Curriculum, believes that social responsibility speaks to instilling our learners with the value of service to their community region and the globe. At the same time, he said, it speaks to the importance of a School that is responsive and accountable to the needs of our community.

“Social responsibility is a value at the heart of the service professions, regardless of the role,” said Dr. Sukhera. “I believe the value of social responsibility connects our faculty, staff and learners to why we wake up in the morning. It unites us. It’s a value that lies at the core of our mission without it, we would be lost.”

As a School, Dr. Sukhera believes we reflect a new generation of undergraduate medical education that in turn reflects social responsibility. To accomplish this, the School has integrated social responsibility into the curriculum throughout the four years, in order that every student leaves with the fundamental ability to understand clinical situations in local and global context.

This careful crafting of the curriculum and steady eye to the School’s value system is having a positive impact on students. “Physicians as healers and leaders are bound, not only to their patients, but to the societies in which they live and work,” said Langer. “We are not only obligated to work on the bodies of those individuals under our care, but also on the social, economic and political forces that lead to the inequity of opportunity for the highest attainable level of health.”

Dr. Sukhera points out that the curriculum offers a continuum of learning throughout the four-year undergraduate program. The goal is for students to broaden their understanding and hone their skills across the four years.

In their first year, medical students learn about marginalized populations, and more specifically about the destructive unconscious bias that affects the attribution they make in patients they meet. These discussions continue in second year, in the Ethics course.

As clerks, they gain more real-life experience, which provides a foundation for further reflection and discussion in their seminar course in fourth year.

“My concept of social responsibility changed drastically from my pre-clerkship years to my clinical training,” said Lauren Forrest, Medicine Class of 2015. “There is no way to prepare medical students for the small daily encounters that will challenge your own sense of values and ethics.”

Forrest is grateful for the second-year portfolio course which involved writing reflections on difficult situations, for giving her the skills she needed to manage certain situations.

“I found it difficult to navigate some of the complex scenarios where my own ideals were challenged by the realities of medicine,” said Forrest. “The opportunity to receive feedback and think deeply about these situations has enabled me to act differently when I encounter similar situations in the future.”

During their four years, medical students are also exposed to a variety of opportunities and programs outside of the classroom, which allow them to learn about social responsibility and take action.

“One of the striking things about Schulich Medicine is the vast number of philanthropic opportunities that exist,” said Forrest. “There are innumerable endeavours led by students and staff with the mission of positively contributing to society.”

Langer agrees. “Medical students spend immense energy on raising funds for good causes, such as Tachycardia supporting the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection and Schulichpaolooza supporting the London branch of El Sistema.”

Meanwhile, Forrest’s own class worked to obtain and maintain an outreach relationship with the Standing Stone School at the Oneida Nation of the Thames.

From Community Medicine Day to national advocacy projects centred on refugee health, social housing and universal pharma care, and participation in research with asylum seekers overseas, Schulich Medicine students are engaged in activities focused on some of the most important and challenging issues in health care today.

The undergraduate medical education curriculum, new academic roles that are positioned to focus on community engagement, the establishment of partnerships, and faculty and staff who are role models as community champions, serve as the foundation for bringing this value of social responsibility to life.

Dr. Sukhera believes the School must continue strengthening this foundation. By investigating new and innovative ways of assessing the curriculum, establishing metrics that measure the impact of programs focused on social responsibility, and mentoring students, he said, the School can continue to be a leader in this area.

The School has also established a working committee on social accountability. Chaired by Dr. Terri Paul, associate dean, Learner Equity & Wellness, the Committee has been tasked with defining what social accountability or responsibility mean for Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

“Social responsibility impacts our learning environment from admissions – where we attempt to choose candidates who reflect our local, regional and cultural needs – to practising physicians who are hopefully trained to provide service on a local and global scale,” said Dr. Paul. “We feel it is part of our mission to give voice to the communities we serve.”