Health literacy teaching in U.S. family medicine residency programs: A national survey

Clifford A. Coleman, Nancy T. Nguyen, Roger Garvin, Channbunmorl Sou, Patricia A. Carney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Health care providers, including medical residents, often lack adequate knowledge and skills to work effectively with patients who have limited health literacy. Little is known about the degree to which medical residents are trained to communicate effectively with people who have limited health literacy. This study aimed to assess the status of health literacy training for physicians in U.S. family medicine residency programs. We conducted an online survey of residency directors at 444 U.S. family medicine residencies. Among 138 respondents (31% response rate), 58 programs (42%) reported teaching residents about health literacy as part of the required curriculum. Most instruction occurred during the 1st year of training. Hours of instruction ranged from 2 to 5 during Years 1 through 3. Skills-based training (e.g., plain language techniques) was taught by most programs. Not having access to a faculty authority on health literacy was strongly associated with lack of a required health literacy curriculum. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that increasing health literacy training for medical students and residents would help improve residents clinical skills. This study provides a baseline snapshot of health literacy curricula in U.S. family medicine residencies and likely overestimates the prevalence of such curricula. Additional studies are needed to determine the quality of health literacy instruction in U.S. family medicine residencies and the most effective methods for teaching residents about health literacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-57
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Health Communication
StatePublished - Mar 28 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Library and Information Sciences


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