Background

Rural church in winter landscape

Social Accountability is not a new concept. What is new is the attention being placed on Social Accountability by health care institutions, medical schools and more recently accreditation bodies. In 1995 Boelen and Heck defined Social Accountability in Medical Schools in their seminal article “Defining and measuring the social accountability of medical schools”[i]. They went further describing a grid that could be used as a framework to assess a medical school’s progress towards becoming more socially accountable, against the values of Relevance, Quality, Cost Effectiveness and Equity.

 In 2001 Health Canada adapted the concept of Social Accountability of Medical Schools to produce a vision for Canadian Medical schools.[ii] Besides supporting the values described by Boelen and Heck, they go on to describe a set of principles by which schools should function. These include professionalism, the need to maintain competency, mechanisms to maintain awareness and respond to changing community needs, curiosity driven research and the need to pursue high level advocacy.

The 2010 paper “The Global Consensus for Social Accountability of Medical Schools”[iii] brought together 130 organizations from around the world over an 8 month process that lead to a 3 day facilitated consensus conference. They looked at how medical schools respond to future societal needs, how to use accreditation systems for self-assessment and how to assess progress. They developed ten strategic directions, which have the potential to charter future medical education.

Closer to home, we need to look no further than our newest medical school, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.[iv] Conceived with social accountability as a driving force, the school is a model of what social accountability in medical schools could be, with a focus on the care of northern Ontario residents, an admission policy that favours students from the region, and a close working relationship with local communities. This model, that supports community engagement as a pillar, is an ongoing example to us of what we can achieve.


[i] Boelen, C., & Heck, J. E. (1995). Defining and measuring the social accountability of medical schools. Geneva: Division of Development of Human Resources for Health, World Health Organization.

[ii] Health Canada. Social accountability - A vision for Canadian medical schools. Health Canada.

[iii] Boelen, Charles. « Consensus Mondial sur la Responsabilité Sociale des Facultés de Médecine », Santé Publique, vol. vol. 23, no. 3, 2011, pp. 247-250.

[iv] Strasser, Roger P., Joel H. Lanphear, William G. Mccready, Maureen H. Topps, D. Dan Hunt, and Marie C. Matte. "Canada’s New Medical School: The Northern Ontario School of Medicine: Social Accountability Through Distributed Community Engaged Learning." Academic Medicine 84, no. 10 (October 2009): 1459-464. doi:10.1097/acm.0b013e3181b6c5d7.

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