The Arc of Social Medicine

Symposium to highlight many paths toward better health, justice

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The understanding that pathological social forces such as racism, poverty, sexism, and environmental degradation perpetuate health inequalities —and are potent factors in the spread of all manner of disease, illness and injury—raises many crucial questions for the medical profession.

Questions such as, how do providers deliver medical care in the face of these large-scale social forces? What do doctors need to do, and how should they be transforming and building medical systems and care delivery so that modern medicine can be shared with all people in need of medical care? What do educators, policy makers, and health care providers need to understand in order to successfully translate laboratory and clinical achievements into care delivery in communities where those in need live and work? 

“These questions are critical to understanding the biosocial dimensions of health,” according to Salmaan Keshavjee, professor of global health and social medicine in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

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“They require us, of course, to understand the pathophysiology of disease; but they also call on us to use fields such as anthropology, medical history, sociology, and economics, to name a few, to understand the social space in which health and care delivery exist. We will not succeed in our mission of alleviating human suffering caused by disease if we do not broaden our view of the remit of modern medicine,” he added.

On Oct. 20, in the second of a year-long series of symposia celebrating 150 years of social medicine at HMS, Keshavjee will host a discussion with a panel of physicians and researchers who will share their diverse experiences using anthropology, sociology, history, and other social sciences to understand and respond to the social determinants of health.

Addressing topics such as academic research and working in the clinic or building and repairing health systems in the U.S. and around the world, the panelists will discuss a wide spectrum of approaches that are core to the social medicine mission.

These strategies are available to caregivers and scholars who want to use the social sciences to understand how social conditions can determine who gets sick, who gets treated, who gets better, and who dies and to those who wish to build countervailing forces of social support and caregiving into systematic and clinical responses to illness and injustice, Keshavjee said.

In addition to  Keshavjee, featured speakers will include Joia Mukherjee, HMS associate professor of global health and social medicine and chief medical officer medical director of the international health care delivery organization Partners In Health; Allan Brandt, the HMS Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine; Lindsey "Marty" Zeve, HMS lecturer on global health and social medicine; and Victor Roy, a family medicine resident at Boston Medical Center’s Codman Square Health Center and a research associate at the University College London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose.

Paul Farmer, the Kolokotrones University Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at HMS and co-founder and chief strategist of PIH will offer his reflections on the discussion.

How to Attend

This symposium will be held virtually via Zoom on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, from noon–2 p.m. ET.

No registration required. Click here to watch The Arc of Social Medicine from Context to Practice.