What is a social medicine doctor?

Arati Karnik, Asiya Tscahnnerl, Matthew Anderson


Background: In 1970 Montefiore Medical Center created the Residency Program in Social Medicine (RPSM) to train physicians to provide care for the underserved. We investigated the characteristics identified by RPSM residents, faculty, and alumni to be those of a “social medicine doctor.”

Methods: Current residents, faculty, and alumni of the RPSM were eligible to participate in the survey, which was sent via email. The survey had seven items: status (resident, faculty, or alumni); specialty (Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics); the role of social medicine in their clinical practice, how social medicine doctors differed from other primary care physicians (PCP), and questions regarding the RPSM curriculum. Demographic data was tabulated, and comments were grouped into themes and investigated via textual and qualitative analysis.

Results: The survey was completed by 173 respondents (29% of 590 potential participants). Forty-seven percent were in Family Medicine, 30% in Internal Medicine, and 24% in Pediatrics. Fifty-four percent were alumni, 28% were faculty, and 22% were current residents. There were three main themes: social medicine doctors have a broad knowledge of the social determinants of health, they have the ability to translate this broad knowledge of health into a specific treatment plan, and they promote social justice in their work. Sub-themes provided a richer description of social medicine concepts and how social medicine practice contrasted with the practice of other primary care physicians.

Conclusions: Within the model adopted by the RPSM social conditions are seen as integral to clinical care. This model was viewed as fundamentally different from the practice of other primary care physicians.

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Editorial Offices:

Department of Family and Social Medicine
Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center
Bronx, New York, 10461

Asociación Latinoamericana de Medicina Social (ALAMES)/Latin American Social Medicine Association:
ALAMES, Southern Cone Region, Cassinoni 1440 – 802, CP 11200 Montevideo, Uruguay.
ALAMES, Mexico Region, San Jerónimo 70 – 1, Col. La Otra Banda, CP 01090, México, D.F.