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Leveraging a Virtual Family to Teach Social Determinants of Health



Social Determinants of Health, Interactive Teaching and Learning, Case-Based Clinical Learning

Presented by:

Victoria C. Lucia, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine

Key Statement:

Social determinants of health are important to consider within disciplines interacting with the community. Creating teaching materials that are meaningful/memorable is challenging, but necessary.


Social determinants of health (SDOH) impact many aspects of an individual’s life including, but not limited to, healthcare, education, housing/food security, and employment. Incorporating a virtual family into curricula for community-based professionals provides an opportunity to more robustly examine and analyze how SDOH impact daily life. We have successfully incorporated a virtual family into a medical education curriculum that allows students to learn via various interactive modalities (role-play, case-based presentations, journal club, discussion board, etc.) targeted at improving understanding of SDOH and communication skills. Challenges and success will be shared along with potential modifications for improvement.

Learning Outcomes:

Identify key stakeholders that can benefit from interactive instruction about social determinants of health. 

Discuss challenges and opportunities in teaching social determinants of health for community-based professionals.  

Identify strategies to incorporate a virtual family for teaching social determinants of health.

Hear it from the author:

Leveraging a Virtual Family to Teach Social Determinants of Health Victoria C. Lucia, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
00:00 / 01:15


Social determinants of health are defined as conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affects a wide range of health outcomes including quality of life and life expectancy. Social determinants of health are modifiable and include many less obvious factors, such as societal systems and structural forces which are often more difficult to recognize and teach.  It is important for community-based professionals, such as physicians, nurses, social workers, and educators to understand how social determinants of health can impact their patients, clients, and students. This information can be passively taught through lectures or readings, but providing more interactive ways to engage with the material will make it more meaningful and memorable and have more impact long-term.

During this session you will learn about the various activities that we used to engage medical students in learning about social determinants of health during a multi-semester course using a virtual family.

Additionally, consideration will be given for how to modify the virtual family and activities for community-based professionals who are not direct healthcare providers as well as how to use this format as a complement to a single semester course.


McGraw Hill. (2020). Case-based learning in medical education: Preparing students for success in clinical practice.

Robinson, D., Rajasekaran, S., Berman, N., Auerback, L., Henderson, D., Rose, S., Mazzurco, L., & Matson, C.  (2017).  It feels like being a real doctor: The virtual family approach in medical education [version 1].  MedEdPublish, 6, 187. 

Thistlethwaite, J. E., Davies, D., Ekeocha, S., Kidd, J. M., MacDougall, C., Matthews, P., Purkis, J., & Clay, D. (2012). The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education. A BEME systematic review: BEME Guide No. 23. Medical Teacher, 34(6), e421–e444.

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