Structural competency, medicine, social work, health


In this short paper, we argue that providing in-depth structural competency training to both social workers and physicians has the potential to promote a deeper collaboration between these two fields—to the benefit of patients as well as providers. We describe structural competency’s evolution as a pedagogical and practical framework in medicine and social work, then discuss three overlapping ways in which structural competency can enhance collaboration between physician and social work practitioners and educators. First, training in structural competency can fill gaps in both medical and social work education and training—namely a lack of curricula that consistently attend to the sociopolitical forces that influence health and healthcare—thereby offering these fields shared vocabulary and concepts that can improve inter- professional understanding. Second, structural competency frameworks can denaturalize the hierarchies between these professions, a necessary step for working together in genuine collaboration. Third, by preparing medical providers and social workers to imagine and work toward changing the sociopolitical forces that harm their patients and constrain the practice of healthcare, structural competency training provides a basis for these two professions to join together and work alongside patients, communities, and other providers to demand and help build social structures that promote health and well-being.

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