Prevalence and Characteristics of Advocacy Curricula in U.S. Medical Schools

Teva D. Brender, Wesley Plinke, Vineet M. Arora, Jane M. Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Purpose Recent national events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and protests of racial inequities, have drawn attention to the role of physicians in advocating for improvements in the social, economic, and political factors that affect health. Characterizing the current state of advocacy training in U.S. medical schools may help set expectations for physician advocacy and predict future curricular needs. Method Using the member school directory provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the authors compiled a list of 154 MD-granting medical schools in the United States in 2019-2020. They used multiple search strategies to identify online course catalogues and advocacy-related curricula using variations of the terms "advocacy," "policy," "equity," and "social determinants of health." They used an iterative process to generate a preliminary coding schema and to code all course descriptions, conducting content analysis to describe the structure of courses and topics covered. Results Of 134 medical schools with any online course catalogue available, 103 (76.9%) offered at least 1 advocacy course. Required courses were typically survey courses focused on general content in health policy, population health, or public health/epidemiology, whereas elective courses were more likely to focus specifically on advocacy skills building and to feature field experiences. Of 352 advocacy-specific courses, 93 (26.4%) concentrated on a specific population (e.g., children or persons with low socioeconomic status). Few courses (n = 8) focused on racial/ethnic minorities and racial inequities. Conclusions Findings suggest that while most U.S. medical schools offer at least 1 advocacy course, the majority are elective rather than required, and the structure and content of advocacy-related courses vary substantially. Given the urgency to address social, economic, and political factors affecting health and health equity, this study provides an important and timely overview of the prevalence and content of advocacy curricula at U.S. medical schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1586-1591
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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