Physicians who have an understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of health are able to analyzehealth issues more cogently and to interact with patients more effectively. In the McMaster medical education curriculum, we use the tools of social science to explore the concept of culture and its relevance to medical practice. Students will learn skills and attitudes that promote cultural competence and cultural safety, and they will have the opportunity to use these skills when they meet with immigrants and refugees from our local community. Aboriginal health is also an important area of focus in this domain, part of a national educational initiative across Canadian medical schools.
Much of medical training focuses on learning about disease processes and their treatment. Yet for the patient, the experience of the illness is often the most compelling. Making meaning out of serious illness is a key aspect of the healing process. Medical anthropologists have made valuable contributions to the understanding of illness experience, and these insights can help medical students and physicians respond to their patients with greater empathy.
There are many bridges between this domain and others within the Pro Comp curriculum. The social context of health is a key focus of the Population Health domain; cultural competence is linked closely with communication skills, and reflection about our response as physicians to the patient’s illness experience is part of self-awareness.
Topics addressed will include:
- A social science perspective on culture and health
- Cultural competency and cultural safety
- The effects of oppression on health (racism, classism, etc)
- Gender and health
- An introduction to aboriginal health
- Immigrant and refugee health
- Perspectives on the illness experience – suffering and healing
- Narrative and the creation of meaning
Prior to entering clerkship, students will be expected to:
- Gain an appreciation for the social science perspective on medical practice.
- Develop a critical understanding of various approaches to cultural competency.
- Develop a set of skills and attitudes that foster cultural safety.
- Recognize the influence of oppression in its various forms (racism, sexism, classism, etc) on health.
- Be able to view health through a “gender lens”.
- Understand historical perspectives on aboriginal health, as well as current challenges and new initiatives.
- Demonstrate an awareness of key health challenges faced by immigrants and refugees.
- Develop an appreciation for different “ways of knowing” about the body, and how this affects the
- Recognize the difference between disease and illness, and have an approach to understanding the patient’s illness experience.
- Gain an appreciation for the use of narrative in the process of meaning-making, both for patients and for clinicians.