Sonal Batra MD, MST, is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and an Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at the George Washington University.
Social mission is a potent idea that has been present in health professions education under various labels for many years. Humanitarianism, community-oriented primary care, social responsibility, social justice, diversity, and inclusion are some of the ideas that have generated transformative movements in health care delivery and health professions education. Today the term social mission is increasingly used to embody them all. The Beyond Flexner Alliance has defined the social mission of a health professions school as the contribution of a school in its mission, programs, and the performance of its graduates, faculty, and leadership in advancing health equity and addressing the health disparities of the society in which it exists. A new Initiative from the GW Health Workforce Institute strives to deepen the conversation around social mission by providing a means to measure this important concept within health professions schools.
Much has been said about social mission in health professions education but the question about how to measure it remains an open one. There is no simple exam given to medical school graduates or a set of 10 questions to ask of a dental school curriculum that will measure the performance level of teaching and learning about social mission in the school. The absence of social mission metrics in health professions education presents a major limitation in augmenting the attention and curricular time that educators and learners devote to social mission.
Leaders of health professions schools are quite familiar with the concept of self-assessment, utilized in everything from preparing reports for boards of directors to re-accreditation. The Social Mission Metrics Initiative centers around the creation of a tool to measure social mission in dental, medical, and nursing schools across the United States. This tool helps schools examine social mission across the spectrum of their activities – from the educational curriculum, to community engagement, to diversity of students, faculty, and leadership.
From personality quizzes in pop culture magazines to pre-accreditation self-studies, the practice of reflecting on one’s own strengths, achievements, and weaknesses is an essential part of growth. Without deliberately assessing where one currently stands, progress toward any goal will at best be slowed, and at worst be impulsive or misguided.
Participating in the Social Mission Self-Assessment involves school leadership completing an online survey about the current status of social mission at their school. Dental, medical, and nursing school deans across the country will receive an invitation to participate in the self-assessment, but it is up to them to choose whether or not to engage with this free yet highly valuable tool. While time constraints and competing priorities may pose barriers to involvement for some, participating in the self-assessment adds concrete evidence for a school’s claims to social mission. This opportunity for self-examination will allow schools to reveal highlights of social mission that may not be at the forefront in their portfolio of activities, and continue to build on those hidden gems.
After completing the survey, school leaders will receive a confidential feedback packet that shows them how their responses compare to the national cohort of participating schools. While every school thrives on its own individual strengths and mission, this allows deans to get a glimpse into the national landscape around social mission and understand their school’s specific areas of strength and weakness. This feedback is a potentially significant tool in the arsenal of school leadership that can help them create tailored goals to advance their own unique social mission.
Some schools have received recognition in social mission, or social accountability, through awards aimed at schools with the highest levels of achievement in this domain. Schools who aim to meet these high standards should continue to be recognized for their significant accomplishments. The Social Mission Self-Assessment has basis in these tools, but is an opportunity for all schools, across several health professions, to gauge their social mission whether or not they feel ready to apply for such awards.
School leaders will ultimately make the decision about whether or not to engage with the Social Mission Self-Assessment. However, students, faculty, alumni, and community stakeholders can encourage their leadership to participate in the process, thereby elevating social mission in the consciousness of the entire academic community.