Medical Students Ignorant of Military Medical Ethics

By Finn, Robert | Clinical Psychiatry News, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Medical Students Ignorant of Military Medical Ethics


Finn, Robert, Clinical Psychiatry News


The findings in a survey of medical students indicated that few received adequate training in military medical ethics, many were ignorant of a physician's responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, and the overwhelming majority failed to realize that civilian physicians are subject to being drafted.

Dr. J. Wesley Boyd and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and the Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance, contacted 5,000 medical students at eight U.S. medical schools by e-mail and invited them to participate in the survey.

Overall, 1,756 students (35%) completed the survey, and of those, a little more than 5% reported having served in the military or having an obligation to serve in the future (Int. J. Health Services 2007;37:643-50).

Of the total, 94% had received less than 1 hour of instruction during medical school about the ethical obligations of the physicians serving in the military, 4.3% received 1-5 hours of instruction, and 1.5% received more than 5 hours of training.

About 6% of the students reported being "very familiar" with the Geneva Conventions, whereas 66% reported being "somewhat familiar" with them. However, despite this high level of stated familiarity, only 37% of the students correctly answered that the conventions apply regardless of whether or not one's country has formally declared war.

About two-thirds of students correctly stated that wounded individuals should be treated in the order of severity regardless of their nationality, but 27% incorrectly stated that they should treat their own soldiers according to the level of severity and only then tend to the wounded enemy.

Thirty-seven percent of the students did not know that the Geneva Conventions state that it's never acceptable to deprive prisoners of war of food or water, expose them to physical stresses such as heat, cold, and uncomfortable positions, or threaten them with physical violence even if those threats are not carried out. …

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