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Perspectives of Future Physicians on Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness: Challenges of Building a Capable and Sustainable Auxiliary Medical Workforce

  • Heather E. Kaiser, Daniel J. Barnett, Edbert B. Hsu, Thomas D. Kirsch, James J. James and Italo Subbarao...


Background: Although the training of future physicians in disaster preparedness and public health issues has been recognized as an important component of graduate medical education, medical students receive relatively limited exposure to these topics. Recommendations have been made to incorporate disaster medicine and public health preparedness into medical school curricula. To date, the perspectives of future physicians on disaster medicine and public health preparedness issues have not been described.

Methods: A Web-based survey was disseminated to US medical students. Frequencies, proportions, and odds ratios were calculated to assess perceptions and self-described likelihood to respond to disaster and public health scenarios.

Results: Of the 523 medical students who completed the survey, 17.2% believed that they were receiving adequate education and training for natural disasters, 26.2% for pandemic influenza, and 13.4% for radiological events, respectively; 51.6% felt they were sufficiently skilled to respond to a natural disaster, 53.2% for pandemic influenza, and 30.8% for radiological events. Although 96.0% reported willingness to respond to a natural disaster, 93.7% for pandemic influenza, and 83.8% for a radiological event, the majority of respondents did not know to whom they would report in such an event.

Conclusions: Despite future physicians' willingness to respond, education and training in disaster medicine and public health preparedness offered in US medical schools is inadequate. Equipping medical students with knowledge, skills, direction, and linkages with volunteer organizations may help build a capable and sustainable auxiliary workforce. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2009;3:210–216)


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Heather Kaiser, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, OH 45267(e-mail:


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