Influencing attitudes of medical students towards substance misusers




substance use disorder, empathy, changing attitudes, medical education, narrative, stigma


Introduction: Substance use disorder is a stigmatised medical condition that is commonly associated with negative attitudes from clinicians, which results in a barrier to best practice treatment. Medical schools need to help develop professional behaviours in students, including compassion, empathy and respect.

Methods: We designed and implemented a brief experiential teaching activity that allowed students to hear multiple patient narratives of their addiction. The effects of this activity on the students’ attitudes were investigated using an attitudinal questionnaire before and after the session. Differences in agreement with the attitudinal statements before and after the seminar are described.

Results: 118 second-year MD students participated in this study, with 102 completing both the pre- and post-seminar questionnaire. In most domains covered by the questionnaire, the proportion of student agreement with statements demonstrated a significant positive change in their attitude towards working with substance misusers.

Conclusion: Student knowledge, sense of responsibility and role legitimacy were high before the seminar, suggesting students accepted that they would have a duty to understand and treat addiction. By contrast, their initial responses to the “I don’t like” and “I feel uncomfortable” questions suggested that they did not feel comfortable or confident with that role or anticipate that it would be rewarding or that the people would be likeable. Student responses to these questions all showed a significant positive change after the seminar. This suggests that listening to narratives of people in recovery from substance use disorders can positively influence attitudes of medical students.


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How to Cite

Gilkes, L., & Hulse, G. (2024). Influencing attitudes of medical students towards substance misusers. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 25(2), 82–91.



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