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Daaleman, Timothy P. & Elder, Glen H., Jr. (2007). Family Medicine and the Life Course Paradigm. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 20(1), 85-92.


A unique characteristic of family physicians is that they seek to understand individual patients within the context of their families and larger social environments. Unfortunately, the intellectual development of family medicine is hampered by the reliance on epidemiologic, health service, and biomedical paradigms that are limited in their contextual perspectives on patients’ lives. However, another paradigm, that of the life course, represents an interdisciplinary framework that views persons in context over time. It provides an ecological understanding of individual people by examining phenomena at the nexus of social pathways, developmental or health trajectories, and social change. A life course paradigm provides a way of thinking about patients in both proximal (eg, lived lives and family) and distal (eg, health care system) contexts over a life span. Five core principles define the life course as a paradigmatic framework: (1) human development and aging as lifelong processes, (2) human agency, (3) historical time and place, (4) the timing of events in a life, and (5) linked lives. At the individual level, the life course orients physicians to the opportunities and constraints that frame the health care choices, plans, and initiatives of people who maintain health and also face illness. At the organizational level, the life course offers an intellectual infrastructure for the New Model of Family Medicine by depicting an idealized delivery system that may be longitudinally integrated. It also emphasizes health and illness trajectories by linking health and other service organizations that assist individuals at different stages of their lives.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine


Daaleman, Timothy P.
Elder, Glen H., Jr.