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Keywords:

  • attitudes;
  • education;
  • medical students;
  • substance misuse disorders

Abstract

Negative attitudes to patients with substance misuse disorders form a well-recognised barrier to the implementation of best practice. The influence of structured education and clinical experience on the attitudes of medical students towards substance misusers was investigated at an Australian university. First-year students were surveyed before and after 3 weeks of drug and alcohol education and in the same year, fourth-year students were surveyed before and after a 9-week block. Males, older students and those with prior clinical experience tended to have more negative attitudes. Attitudes improved significantly after exposure to interactive learning modules which included contact with patients with substance dependence, including individuals in remission. The level of dislike of problem drinkers significantly decreased after teaching. After fourth-year education, students reported a greater sense of responsibility towards providing intervention and less anticipation of discomfort working with these patients. In particular, confidence and attitudes towards heroin users improved near the end of training after contact with illicit drug users in the small group or individual interview setting. By the end of drug and alcohol education, less than half (42%) of students reported they could not imagine working with substance misusers as a career. Findings support the provision of structured drug and alcohol education and supported clinical experience for every medical student if appropriate evidence-based treatment is to be provided.