The health of millions of Americans depends on medical schools embracing a social mission committed to enhancing health equity and reducing disparities, a policy expert argues in a recent issue of JAMA.

“That medical schools have varied missions is a strength of the medical education community, but for schools to consider social mission to be an elective aspect of their program weakens national efforts to augment health equity and reduce health disparities,” argues Fitzhugh Mullan, MD, professor of health policy at the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The social mission of a medical institution is its commitment to enhancing health equity and addressing the notable societal disparities in healthcare access, outcomes, cost, and medical coverage, Dr Mullan writes.

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“Given these enormous societal challenges, the health professions community must be knowledgeable in dealing with — even leading — the changes needed to reconcile the potential of US health care at the individual level with the clinical, demographic and financial realities of the United States,” he urges.

Schools vary widely in their dedication to a social mission, as 1 study Dr Mullan cited found.

The study, which was conducted in 2010 and included 141 US medical schools, looked at graduates’ employment choices as 1 measure of social mission. Schools with more graduates who chose primary care or who worked in areas with a shortage of healthcare professionals, or who came from underrepresented minority groups, had higher scores.

State schools, excluding urban schools and schools outside of the Northeast, scored highest on this measure of social mission, whereas private schools tended to score lower.