Original Article

Implementing a Disaster Preparedness Curriculum for Medical Students

Authors: Edward H. Jasper, MD, Gregory K. Wanner, MS, DO, Dale Berg, MD, Katherine Berg, MD, MPH


Objectives: Training in disaster medicine and preparedness is minimal or absent in the curricula of many medical schools in the United States. Despite a 2003 joint recommendation by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, few medical schools require disaster training for medical students. The challenges of including disaster training in an already rigorous medical school curriculum are significant. We evaluated medical students’ experiences with mandatory disaster training during a 2-year period in a medical university setting.

Methods: Disaster training has been mandatory at Thomas Jefferson University since 2002 and requires all first-year medical students to attend lectures, undergo practical skills simulation training, and participate in the hospital’s interdisciplinary disaster exercise. Medical students were encouraged to complete a survey after each component of the required training. Twenty-three survey questions focused on assessing students’ experiences and opinions of the training, including evaluation of the disaster exercise. Students provided ratings on a 5-point Likert scale (5 = strongly agree, 1 = strongly disagree).

Results: A total of 503 medical students participated in the disaster preparedness curriculum during the course of 2 years. Survey response rates were high for each portion of the training: lectures (91%), skills sessions (84%), and disaster exercise (100%). Students believed that disaster preparedness should remain part of the medical school curriculum (rating 4.58/5). The disaster lectures were considered valuable (rating 4.26/5) and practical skills sessions should continue to be part of the first-year curriculum (4.97/5). Students also believed that participation in the disaster exercise allowed them to better understand the difficulties faced in a real disaster situation (4.2/5).

Conclusions: Our mandatory disaster preparedness training course was successfully integrated into the first-year curriculum >10 years ago and has been well received by students without compromising the existing university curriculum. Integrating interdisciplinary teams and course components important to other education stakeholders may help other schools overcome obstacles to implementing disaster medicine training. Future education research should focus on developing interdisciplinary education to help disseminate disaster medicine topics across all 4 years of medical school.

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