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New AAMC Report Stresses Role of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Medical Education

Washington, D.C., January 12, 2012—Understanding how lifestyle, behavior, and economic status affect health, and applying this knowledge to medical practice is vital for future physicians, according to a new report from the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).   “Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for Future Physicians”  is designed to help medical educators understand what behavioral and social sciences to include in their curricula, and provides a framework to help prepare future physicians to address complex social challenges and unhealthy behaviors that can lead to premature death, chronic disease, and health care disparities.

“In addition to medical knowledge, a well-rounded physician must understand the cultural, familial, economic, and demographic factors that affect health and disease,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D.  “To deliver quality patient-centered care, today’s doctors need to be equipped with effective methods to help people change behavior to optimize health.”

Behaviors and the social determinants of health such as smoking, diet, exercise, and socioeconomic status account for more than 50 percent of premature disease and death in the nation, according to the report.  Behavioral and social sciences can assist physicians in developing the right questions and identifying concepts from these disciplines that will provide insight into the many influences on health.   For example, applying principles from psychology, epidemiology, or political science can help a physician caring for a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient.  By taking into consideration a patient’s available support system, access to health care, and how breast cancer is distributed across populations, a physician is in a better position to develop an effective health strategy for treating the disease.

Developed by an expert panel of physicians, scientists, and educators, the report draws from earlier publications that identified key behavioral and social science domains, professional roles for physicians, and supporting competencies.  This new report combines the two, creating a teaching and learning matrix that easily can be applied in a clinical setting.   It also provides competency frameworks, methods for evaluating professional behaviors, educational strategies, and performance outcomes. 

The report is the companion to “Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians,”  a 2009 publication released by the AAMC and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) that developed competencies related to the biological, physical, genetic, molecular, and mathematical sciences, as well as foundations of knowledge and reasoning. 


The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members comprise all 147 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their nearly 160,000 faculty members, 83,000 medical students, and 115,000 resident physicians. Additional information about the AAMC and its member medical schools and teaching hospitals is available at


Jamila Vernon
Public Relations Specialist II
Telephone: 202-828-0959