Medical Students’ Knowledge of the U.S. Health Care System and Their Preferences for Curricular Change: A National Survey

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PurposeTo measure medical students’ knowledge of central issues in the U.S. health care system and to understand their perception of the importance and quality of health policy curricula at their medical schools.MethodA questionnaire was developed using facts from recent national and international health reports to test students’ knowledge of health policy. The instrument, containing 14 questions about health policy and four questions about school curriculum on health policy, was mailed to a national probability sample of 516 first-year and 847 fourth-year students in the United States. Chi-square and t tests were used to compare the responses of first- and fourth-year students.ResultsA total of 295 first-year (57%) and 475 fourth-year students (56%) responded. Nearly all respondents were aware of the adverse health consequences for the uninsured, but 40% of first- and fourth-year students underestimated the numbers of uninsured in the United States. Thirty-two percent of respondents incorrectly answered that the United States had the highest life expectancy of any nation, and 27% were not aware that the United States has the highest health cost per-person of any nation. First- and fourth-year students performed similarly on knowledge questions. Ninety-six percent of respondents felt that knowledge of health policy is important to their career, and 54% expressed dissatisfaction with the health policy curriculum in medical school.ConclusionMedical students have significant gaps in knowledge concerning the U.S. health care system. Most students perceive that these deficiencies are not adequately addressed in the medical school curriculum.

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