Social class in medical school: Teaching and learning in the formal curriculum

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Chiasson, Terrilyn
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Mount Saint Vincent University
We know that individuals receive different healthcare depending on their social class (e.g. upper, middle, lower). Formal medical school curricula may not help students to effectively learn about patients from all social backgrounds and circumstances, or how these backgrounds may interact with generic medical treatments. When knowledge or truth about social class is included in any medical school curricula, this knowledge may inadvertently include stereotypes that show certain classes in a negative light, possibly perpetuating inaccurate information to medical students about certain individuals in our society. Given that most medical students are from middle to upper class families, these students may come to medical school with limited knowledge about (and comfort with) social backgrounds that are unlike their own. In addition to learning about the social class of others, students must gain awareness of their own social class, including possible privileges they enjoy that are not accessible to all members of society. Through a Foucauldian-influenced “discourse analysis” of a sample of medical school curriculum at one university, I analyzed what constitutes knowledge and truth about social class in this curriculum and how this knowledge may result in power outcomes as some individuals from certain social classes are depicted as less favourable than others. My analysis will include interviews with second-year medical students as well as reviews of the case studies from the curriculum used by these same students. Formal medical school curricula have an obligation to provide education about medicine that is representative of individuals in our current society, taking into consideration the social determinants of health, to ensure that equality and quality exist in medical education, furthering its integrity as a discipline.
Social class, medical school, social backgrounds