To understand the personal and clinical safe-sex–related knowledge, attitudes, and practices of U.S. medical students.
Sixteen medical schools were selected to survey the class of 2003 based on their characteristics similar to the national average. Students were surveyed at freshman orientation, at entrance to wards, and during their senior year. The primary personal outcome was the response to the question, “Are you currently trying to practice safe sex when sexually involved? (no, not applicable/no, not trying/yes, low priority/yes, high priority).” The primary professional outcomes were answers to: 1) “How relevant do you think talking to patients about safe sex will be in your intended practice? (not at all/somewhat/highly),” and 2) “With a typical general medicine patient, how often do you actually talk about safe sex? (never-rarely/sometimes/usually-always).”
A total of 2,316 students provided data, and the response rate was 80%. Personally practicing safe-sex habits was a high priority for 75% of the sexually active, single medical students, especially for women, African Americans, and those earlier in their medical education. Among seniors, 41% reported extensive training in discussing safe sex with patients, and 57% were highly confident about conducting such discussions. Overall, 55% of students believed it would be highly relevant to counsel patients about safe sex (59% of freshmen, 62% of those at entry to wards, and 41% of seniors); 73% answered all four true/false questions on human papillomavirus correctly.
About half of U.S. medical students believed that counseling their patients about safe sex will not be highly relevant to their practice. These findings should be considered by those trying to interest a new generation of physicians in helping patients have safe-sex practices.
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