Transforming Health Education to Catalyze a Global Paradigm Shift: Systems Thinking, Complexity, and Design Thinking

  • Chad Swanson
  • Matt Widmer


At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Flexner report catalyzed a transition in medical thought toward science-based research and practice. That paradigm shift resulted in a substantial improvement in human health. However, the advances that accompanied a biomedical reductionist paradigm—an approach to health concentrated on physiological minutia, professions working in silos, and a focus on episodic treatment—which surged exponentially after Flexner’s report are not adequate for the complexity of today’s health challenges. In this chapter, we make the case that we need a change in mindset similar to what resulted from Flexner’s report: a historical paradigm shift from biological reductionism toward a complex social systems approach to health improvement. We introduce three overlapping and emerging perspectives that provide the theory, language, tools, and methods suitable for today’s challenges: systems thinking, complexity thinking, and adaptive design. We also argue that some combination of these perspectives and approaches will provide the paradigm for the next century.



We gratefully acknowledge the work of Eliza Swanson in preparing the figures for this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arizona State University School for the Science of Healthcare DeliveryUtah Valley HospitalProvoUSA
  2. 2.Romney Institute of Public ManagementBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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