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April 6, 2022

Citizenship and Social Responsibility in Surgery: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Boston University School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Augusta University at the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta
JAMA Surg. 2022;157(6):532-539. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2022.0621

Importance  Social determinants of health have been shown to be key drivers of disparities in access to surgical care and surgical outcomes. Though the concept of social responsibility has received growing attention in the medical field, little has been published contextualizing social responsibility in surgery. In this narrative review, we define social responsibility as it relates to surgery, explore the duty of surgeons to society, and provide examples of social factors associated with adverse surgical outcomes and how they can be mitigated.

Observations  The concept of social responsibility in surgery has deep roots in medical codes of ethics and evolved alongside changing views on human rights and the role of social factors in disease. The ethical duty of surgeons to society is based on the ethical principles of benevolence and justice and is grounded within the framework of the social contract. Surgeons have a responsibility to understand how factors such as patient demographics, the social environment, clinician awareness, and the health care system are associated with inequitable patient outcomes. Through education, we can empower surgeons to advocate for their patients, address the causes and consequences of surgical disparities, and incorporate social responsibility into their daily practice.

Conclusions and Relevance  One of the greatest challenges in the field of surgery is ensuring that surgical care is provided in an equitable and sustainable way. Surgeons have a duty to understand the factors that lead to health care disparities and use their knowledge, skills, and privileged position to address these issues at the individual and societal level.

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