Palestine Social Medicine Course

Bend of road with concrete high rise buildings visible behind it at sunset
Applications for the summer 2024 cohort will open in late Fall 2023.
Read the 2023 Course Overview

Important Information at a Glance

Dates: TBA

Application Period: TBA

Open to: 20 participants of which 10 will be Harvard-based students.

Cost of Participation: TBA

Location: Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University, West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory, and Israel.

Harvard FXB Scholarships: Available only to Harvard University applicants. Several need-based partial scholarships, each covering approximately half of the course’s fee, are available through the Albina Fund for Student Travel Fellowships offered by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

Course Overview

The Palestine Program for Health and Human Rights—a partnership between the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights and the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University—will be hosting its first annual Palestine Social Medicine Course. This three-week intensive summer course is designed to introduce students to the social, structural, political, and historical aspects that determine Palestinian health ‘beyond the biological basis of disease.’


Social and political determinants of health are widely recognized as having a disproportionate impact on individual health and wellbeing. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), communities struggle with confronting the social and political determinants of health that overwhelm the capacities of a traditional biomedical approach to health. When the barriers to care are sociopolitical, improving health requires more than well-meaning health professionals and adequate care facilities. Yet despite the importance of these structural determinants of health, the historical, political, and structural factors are not commonly discussed in health sciences curricula and thus become elusive in the biological and clinical training typically received by health professional students.

To supplement existing coursework, the social medicine framework offers a progressive approach to educating on the social and structural determinants of health. The Palestine course builds on the expertise, experience, and curricula of EqualHealth’s successful annual social medicine courses in Uganda, Haiti, and the United States, which over the last few years have trained hundreds of health professional students from these countries and beyond to both understand and respond to the social determinants of health. The training in these courses explore social determinants through self-reflection and self-awareness, the building of collaborative partnerships, and praxis. Such an approach is transformational for the Palestinian context in order to fully explore the political, historical, and geographic fragmentation of Palestinians as related to their health, while also building a growing cadre of graduates and future leaders with the knowledge and tools to achieve health equity in Palestine and beyond.

Course Objectives

The objectives of the Palestine Social Medicine Course are the following:

  1. Educate Palestinian and Harvard health professional students on the social determinants of health in Palestine and in general, particularly with regard to practical, real-life examples of barriers to care and their potential or actual alleviation.
  2. Integrate lectures and field visits into a comprehensive and dynamic learning experience.
  3. Develop student appreciation for the need to be historically deep and geographically broad in their approach to understanding the complexities of health inequity.
  4. Introduce key published lessons from established social medicine courses, including the need to:
    • Build equitable partnerships
    • Embrace discomfort
    • Link reflection with action through praxis
    • Build intentional community
  1. Build a growing network of structurally competent health professionals to address and champion structural health issues via local, national, and global advocacy.


The course will be based at the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University, West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory. A variety of experiential field visits will take students to locations throughout the West Bank and Israel.

Course Structure

The primary site of instruction will be at the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University. Course pedagogy will include field visits, group discussion, presentations, and personal reflection to foster a transformative learning environment. Guest speakers will include a wide range of health and social actors including health practitioners, community organizers, activists, academics, and representatives from civil society organizations.

Curriculum Content

Curriculum topics will build learner’s core understandings of social medicine, social determinants of health, health activism, and the historical, social, and political context of Palestine. Core topics include:

  • Self-awareness and structural humility
  • What is social medicine and what is structural competency?
  • Social medicine/structural competency approaches to clinical encounters
  • A social sciences approach to disease in Palestine
  • The human rights framework and the right to health in Palestine
  • Health and health culture in Palestine
  • Settler colonialism and its manifestations in Palestine
  • Health and racism
  • Case studies in Palestinian health
  • Health systems financing
  • Barriers to care in the oPt/Israel/diaspora and means of alleviating access

Core Faculty

  • Yara Asi, PhD. FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University and Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida
  • Weeam Hammoudeh, PhD. FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Community and Public Health, Birzeit University
  • David Mills, MD. FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University and Instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School
  • Osama Tannous, MD. FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
  • Bram Wispelwey, MS MD MPH. FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University and Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School


There will be space for a total of 20 students of which 10 will be Harvard-based students. Priority will be given to students in the Medical, Public Health, Nursing, and Social Sciences. The course will be taught in English.

Harvard Applicants

Students enrolled in any Harvard graduate school (including Medicine, Dentistry, Chan School) or doctoral program, and senior undergraduates are eligible to apply. Harvard students who will graduate in May 2023 are also eligible to apply.

Harvard Course Credit

Harvard graduate students can choose this course for Independent Study Credit to be credited during the Fall 2023 Semester.

Students who decide to receive academic credits will work with Professor Bram Wispelwey during the fall semester and produce a paper as part of the Independent Study requirements.

Non-Harvard Applicants

Non-Harvard students will apply through Birzeit University.


Participants will share double occupancy rooms in a hotel near Birzeit University. Breakfast will be offered at all hotel locations. Lunch will also be provided and be covered by the program for the majority of days. Though some dinners will be covered by the program, students will be required to make their own dinner arrangements for the majority of their stay.

Cost and Expenses

Total course cost: TBA. Cost includes:

  • In-country transport and accommodation (flights excluded)
  • Coffee, lunch, and some dinners
  • Field visits
  • Course fees
  • All program activities, included scheduled cultural activities
  • COVID tests

There are a number of expenses that are not covered by the program fee that students are responsible to cover on their own. These expenses include:

  • International airfare
  • Ground transportation for personal purposes
  • Personal expenditures, communication, course materials, and incidentals

Deposits/Payments: TBA

Program Cancellations

In the event of cancellation of the whole course, all amounts paid towards the course cost will be refunded to students, including the deposit. The program is not responsible for refunding airfare, visa application fees, or any other incurred expenses not covered by course fee. While planning for your trip, consider purchasing travel insurance or refundable airline tickets.

If students decide to cancel their participation for personal reasons, the deposit is nonrefundable. The remaining amount is not refundable if participants decide to cancel their participation for personal reasons, after June 1, 2023. Individual cases will be considered, and refunds of the remaining amounts will depend on the discretion of the organizers.

Ensure Safety while Traveling Abroad (Harvard applicants only)

Global Support Services 
For Safety Information and Recommendations while traveling abroad, please visit Harvard’s Global Support Services (GSS) for important tools, as well as a list of steps for planning your departure and for staying safe while abroad.

International SOS  
Ensure that you register your trip with the Harvard International SOS. International SOS provides 24/7 medical, mental health, and security support and evacuation services to eligible Harvard students abroad as well as access to helpful resources and alerts.

2024 Application Timeline: TBA

The application deadline for the 2024 cohort will be announced in late Fall 2023.

Need Additional Information?

For questions regarding the social medicine course, please reach out to Dr. David Mills at or to Dr. Bram Wispelwey at