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Patient Advocacy Assessment in the Medicine Clerkship: A Qualitative Study of Definition, Context, and Impact



Advocacy is a core value of the medical profession. However, patient advocacy (advocacy) is not uniformly assessed and there are no studies of the behaviors clinical supervisors consider when assessing advocacy.


To explore how medical students and supervisors characterize advocacy during an internal medicine clerkship, how assessment of advocacy impacted students and supervisors, and elements that support effective implementation of advocacy assessment.


A constructivist qualitative paradigm was used to understand advocacy assessment from the perspectives of students and supervisors.


Medical students who completed the internal medicine clerkship at UCSF during the 2018 and 2019 academic years and supervisors who evaluated students during this period.


Supervisor comments from an advocacy assessment item in the medicine clerkship and transcripts of focus groups were used to explore which behaviors students and supervisors deem to be advocacy. Separate focus groups with both students and supervisors examined the impact that advocacy assessment had on students' and supervisors' perceptions of advocacy and what additional context was necessary to effectively implement advocacy assessment.

Key results

Students and supervisors define advocacy as identifying and addressing social determinants of health, recognizing and addressing patient wishes and concerns, navigating the health care system, conducting appropriate evaluation and treatment, and creating exceptional therapeutic alliances. Effective implementation of advocacy assessment requires the creation of non-hierarchical team environments, supervisor role modeling, and pairing assessment with teaching of advocacy skills. Inclusion of advocacy assessment reflects and dictates institutional priorities, shapes professional identity formation, and enhances advocacy skill development for students and their supervisors.


Students and supervisors consider advocacy to be a variety of behaviors beyond identifying and addressing social determinants of health. Effectively implementing advocacy assessment shapes students' professional identity formation, underscoring the critical importance of formally focusing on this competency in the health professions education.

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