Medical student attitudes to risk taking and self-perceived influence on medical practice

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Abstract

CONTEXT

Little has been published on medical student risk-taking attitudes and behaviours and whether students think these attributes will affect how they treat patients.

OBJECTIVES

Our aims were to assess for an association between risk-taking attitudes and behaviours, such as problematic substance use, self-reported risky behaviours, and self-reported accidents, and to test for an association between risk-taking attitudes and student perceptions of the influence of these attitudes on future clinical practice.

METHODS

Three consecutive classes of Year 2 medical students (n = 315) completed a self-administered, 29-item questionnaire. Risk-taking attitudes were evaluated using a 6-question, risk-taking scale adapted from the Jackson Personality Inventory (JPI).

RESULTS

A significant positive correlation was demonstrated between risk-taking attitudes (JPI) and problematic substance use (r = 0.34; P < 0.01), self-reported risky behaviours (r = 0.47; P < 0.01), and self-reported accidents (r = 0.33; P < 0.01). Students who did not think their attitudes toward risk would affect their clinical decision making scored significantly higher on our measure of risk-taking attitudes (t306 = − 4.60; P < 0.01). Students who did not think that their drinking, drug taking or sexual behaviour would affect how they counselled patients on these matters scored significantly higher on our measure of problematic substance use (t307 = − 2.51; P = 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS

Although risk-taking attitudes have been associated with significant differences in clinical decision making among doctors, in our sample students with high risk-taking attitudes and behaviours were significantly less likely than their colleagues to think their attitudes would affect their clinical practice. Implications for medical education are discussed.

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