Time for action: key considerations for implementing social accountability in the education of health professionals



Within health professional education around the world, there exists a growing awareness of the professional duty to be socially responsible, being attentive to the needs of all members of communities, regions, and nations, especially those who disproportionately suffer from the adverse influence of social determinants. However, much work still remains to progress beyond such good intentions. Moving from contemplation to action means embracing social accountability as a key guiding principle for change. Social accountability means that health institutions attend to improving the performance of individual practitioners and health systems by directing educational and practice interventions to promote the health of all the public and assessing the systemic effects of these interventions. In this Reflection, the authors (1) review the reasons why health professional schools and their governing bodies should codify, in both curricular and accreditation standards, norms of excellence in social accountability, (2) present four considerations crucial to successfully implementing this codification, and (3) discuss the challenges such changes might entail. The authors conclude by noting that in adopting socially accountable criteria, schools will need to expand their philosophical scope to recognize social accountability as a vitally important part of their institutional professional identity.


Global health Health equity Health professional education Humans Interprofessional relations Social accountability Social responsibility 



Dr. Ventres thanks the Brocher Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland; the Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa; and the Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, for supporting him with residential fellowships during which this essay was designed, written, and revised.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Ventres
    • 1
    • 2
  • Charles Boelen
    • 3
    • 4
  • Cynthia Haq
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, College of MedicineUniversity of Arkansas for the Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Studies in History, Anthropology and ArcheologyUniversity of El SalvadorSan SalvadorEl Salvador
  3. 3.Independent International ConsultantSciezFrance
  4. 4.Program of Human Resources for HealthWorld Health OrganizationGenevaSwitzerland
  5. 5.Department of Family Medicine and Community HealthUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public HealthMadisonUSA

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