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Communicating About Vaccines and Vaccine Safety: What Are Medical Residents Learning and What Do They Want to Learn?

Sarnquist, Clea DrPH; Sawyer, Mark MD; Calvin, Kris MA; Mason, Wilbert MD; Blumberg, Dean MD; Luther, Jeffrey MD; Maldonado, Yvonne MD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: January/February 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 1 - p 40–46
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3182495776
Original Articles

Objective: Physicians spend significant amounts of time discussing vaccine safety concerns with patients and parents. This study aimed to better understand the educational needs of US residents regarding vaccine safety communication, primarily by quantifying the vaccine safety communication training that residents currently receive and elucidating residents' preferences around education about vaccines and vaccine safety communication.

Design: A mixed-methods needs assessment consisting of focus groups and a survey.

Setting/Participants: A convenience sample of 303 medical residents in pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine from across the United States participated in an online, anonymous survey from March through June 2010. In addition, 9 focus groups with 47 resident participants were held.

Main Outcome Measures/Results: The sample included residents in pediatrics (239, 80.2%), internal or family medicine (30, 10.1%), and dual medicine-pediatrics (29, 9.7%); 20.6% of the residents reported “not learning” about vaccine safety communication in their residency programs. Preferred learning methods, which were also the most commonly used methods, included didactic lectures and role-modeling/cases. Electronic teaching method were not only less desired but also very rarely utilized. More than 95% of residents reported thinking that vaccine safety communication would be very or somewhat important in their careers.

Conclusions: Improving education on vaccine safety communication within US residency programs, as well as offering self-learning opportunities, can better prepare physicians for their careers.

This study focuses on physician communication skills to encourage patients and parents to follow recommended vaccination schedules for themselves and their children.

Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California (Drs Sarnquist and Maldonado); Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla (Dr Sawyer); American Academy of Pediatrics-California Region IX, Pasadena, California (Ms Kalvin); Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California (Dr Mason); Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Davis Children's Hospital, Sacramento, California (Dr Blumberg); and Family Medicine Residency Program, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Long Beach, California (Dr Luther).

Correspondence: Clea Sarnquist, DrPH, Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 301 Ravenswood Ave, Suite 100, Menlo Park, CA 94025 (

This project is a collaboration of a consortium of 6 separate organizations, with each organization taking responsibility for different portions of the project. Therefore, all 7 authors contributed substantially to study conceptualization, data collection, data interpretation, and manuscript writing.

The source of funding for this project was Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant U01IP000375.

We thank Sophia Vourthis, MPH, for survey review, literature searching, and editorial assistance, and Erin Moix Grieb, MEd, for literature review and editorial assistance.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.