Education for Health

: 2018  |  Volume : 31  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 54--55

What do medical students think about health-care policy education?

Christos Theophanous1, Pamela Peters2, Patrick O'Brien3, Michael R Cousineau4,  
1 Department of Medical Education, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
2 Department of Medical Education, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
3 Department of Medical Education, University of South Alabama College of Medicine, Mobile, AL, USA
4 Department of Family and Preventative Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Correspondence Address:
Christos Theophanous
5758 S Maryland Ave, DCAM-1B, Chicago, IL 60637

How to cite this article:
Theophanous C, Peters P, O'Brien P, Cousineau MR. What do medical students think about health-care policy education?.Educ Health 2018;31:54-55

How to cite this URL:
Theophanous C, Peters P, O'Brien P, Cousineau MR. What do medical students think about health-care policy education?. Educ Health [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Jun 24 ];31:54-55
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Full Text

Dear Editor,

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act brought remarkable changes in the US health-care system.[1] In the US and internationally, health-care policy remains a central topic of public discourse. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that patients trust doctors and nurses more than any other source in learning about how health-care reform affects their care.[1] How prepared are physicians to engage with the policy community, as well as their patients, on topics of health policy?

Studies in both the US and the UK have suggested that medical students are receiving inadequate training on health policy topics.[2],[3],[4],[5] Although more country-specific research is needed, we expect that this trend may hold true in many countries. To better understand medical students' attitudes on health policy education in the US, we surveyed medical students at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (KSOM), Pritzker School of Medicine of the University of Chicago (PSOM), and the University of South Alabama College of Medicine (SACOM). These schools are geographically diverse and, more importantly, differ in their health policy curricula. KSOM fits policy instruction into 2 week-long sessions for MS3 students and small group “Professionalism and Practice of Medicine” discussions for MS1 and MS2 students. PSOM students take a one-quarter-length course titled “The American Healthcare System,” with electives available for interested students. SACOM students receive instruction during the Internal Medicine and Family Medicine clerkships.

The voluntary survey (exempted by the Institutional Review Boards at each institution) was distributed between October and November 2015 and asked students to rate their agreement to eight statements using a 5-point Likert scale. Responses to each question were averaged. 574 students responded (KSOM: 357, PSOM: 128, and SACOM: 89), with a 41% response rate overall (KSOM: 48%, PSOM: 35%, and SACOM: 29%). Nearly 54% were female and responses were well distributed across classes. Results are summarized in [Table 1].{Table 1}

Uniformly, students were interested to learn about health-care policy and believed physicians should have a basic understanding of health policy. They also felt that physician opinions can impact policy decisions. They felt less strongly about their knowledge of health policy current events, current health policy curricula, and knowledge of advocacy opportunities, although responses differed by school. A small but statistically significant difference was observed between MS1 and MS3 students in personal interest and importance of student and physician understanding of health-care policy. Students also uniformly felt less strongly that student opinions can shape policy decisions compared to physician opinions. Adjusting for gender and age differences did not change these findings.

The consistency of results across campuses suggests that these attitudes may reflect a broader trend. Students seem interested in health policy and see its value, but are less content with their instruction and engagement on the topic. Many schools have opportunities for improvement in their policy curricula. We encourage further discussion to identify strategies for improving health policy instruction. Standardizing requirements in the accreditation process or including health policy questions on licensing examinations should be considered.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health Tracking Poll; 28 August, 2013. Available from: [Last accessed on 2016 May 20].
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3Emil S, Nagurney JM, Mok E, Prislin MD. Attitudes and knowledge regarding health care policy and systems: A survey of medical students in Ontario and California. CMAJ Open 2014;2:E288-94.
4Winkelman TN, Antiel RM, Davey CS, Tilburt JC, Song JY. Medical students and the affordable care act: Uninformed and undecided. Arch Intern Med 2012;172:1603-5.
5Malik B, Ojha U, Khan H, Begum F, Khan H, Malik Q, et al. Medical student involvement in health policy roles. Adv Med Educ Pract 2017;8:735-43.