Introduction to Health Systems Science: Experiential Learning Through Patient Interviews in the Emergency Department

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Increased complexity in health care delivery is now a problem of national proportions. Traditional medical education fails to sufficiently prepare students for the realities of practicing medicine in the 21st century. To address this critical problem, health systems science (HSS), which focuses on the broader system of care, has emerged as the “third pillar” of undergraduate medical education complementing the basic and clinical sciences. The authors identified a need to increase the amount and quality of HSS education in a way that would engage students and provide a platform to learn how patients interact with the health care system. UNITED (Understanding Needs in the Emergency Department) was thus designed and implemented to introduce preclinical medical students to HSS through patient interactions in the emergency department (ED). EDs serve as America's health care “safety net” and there is no lack of opportunity to learn how the current system of care does and does not work for patients. Qualitative analysis of students’ written reflections revealed the following themes of the UNITED experience: 1) medical students question their understanding of the health care system after listening to patients' stories, 2) focused patient interviews about the health care system provides a unique perspective of the patient experience not found elsewhere in the preclinical curriculum, and 3) discussing the realities of being a patient in the U.S. health care system is an emotional experience for students. Based on these data, the authors concluded that asking preclinical students to interview patients about their experience in the health care system leads to emotional activation and a subsequent stated desire to improve care delivery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAEM Education and Training
StateAccepted/In press - 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Education
  • Emergency


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