Social mission efforts in health professions education are designed to advance health equity and address the health disparities of the society in which they exist. While there is growing evidence that social mission–related interventions are associated with intended outcomes such as practice in underserved communities, student diversity, and students graduating with skills and knowledge that prepare them to address societal needs, critical evidence gaps remain that limit the possibility of generalizing findings and using social mission strategically to advance health equity. At a time when COVID-19 has been laying bare health disparities related to systemic racism and maldistribution of resources, understanding how health professions training can produce the workforce needed to advance health equity becomes even more imperative. Yet, data and methods limitations are hindering progress in this critical research.
The authors present an overview of the social mission research landscape; their review of the research led them to conclude that more rigorous research and data collection are needed to determine the link between social mission activities in health professions education and advances in health equity. To accelerate understanding of how health professions education and training can advance health equity, the authors propose a social mission research road map that includes (1) creating a social mission research community by consolidating stakeholders, (2) building a solid foundation for the research through development of a consensus-driven logic framework and research agenda, and (3) laying out the data and methodological needs that are imperative to strengthening the social mission evidence base and identifying opportunities to address these needs. Core to achieving these milestones is leadership from an organizing body that can serve as a hub for social mission research and engage stakeholder groups in building the evidence base for social mission strategies that will ultimately advance health equity.