September 1, 2016

Privilege as a Social Determinant of Health in Medical Education: A Single Class Session Can Change Privilege Perspective

Nash A.K. Witten MSII and Gregory G. Maskarinec PhD


Accredited medical schools are required to prepare students to recognize the social determinants of health, such as privilege, yet privilege education has been overlooked in medical school curricula. The purpose of this study is to determine whether a single class session on privilege, within a social justice elective offered to first and second-year medical students, is sufficient to change the perspective of medical students concerning their own personal privilege. A pre-class survey, followed by a class session on privilege, and post-class survey were conducted. Thirteen of the 18 students enrolled in the elective completed the pre-class survey. Ten students completed the post-class survey, although only 9 completed both the pre- and post-class surveys. The demographic profile of the participants was 93% Asian and 7% White ethnicity, with 57% identifying as being culturally American. There was no significant difference between average male and female or between age groups’ self-assessed privilege amounts. For all characteristics tested, except hair color, participants had an increased self-assessed privilege perspective following the class. Three participants had an overall positive difference in privilege perspective, three participants had an overall negative difference in privilege perspective, and three participants had only a minimal change in privilege perspective. The absolute total difference in privilege perspective was 25 units of change. The single class session on privilege was sufficient to change significantly the perspective of medical students on their own personal privilege; however, future studies with larger groups of medical students are needed to elucidate other findings suggested by this study.

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