Do medical students have the knowledge needed to maximize organ donation rates?

Trevor Bardell, Duncan J W Hunter, William D T Kent, Minto K Jain
Canadian Journal of Surgery. Journal Canadien de Chirurgie 2003, 46 (6): 453-7

INTRODUCTION: The chronic shortage of organs for donation could be improved by increasing the numbers of potential and actual donors. Physicians can play a key role in solving this problem but may miss opportunities because they lack knowledge about organ donation to answer questions or concerns. Education of physicians early in their careers may lead to better procurement rates for donor organs. We carried out a study at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., to determine whether medical students have sufficient knowledge of topics shown to affect organ donation rates.

METHODS: Medical students from years 1-4 completed a self-administered questionnaire. Section 1 tested general knowledge about organ donation; section 2 tested the students' ability to identify potential donors; and section 3 dealt with the approach to the potential donor's family. Univariate predictors of mean test scores were assessed using the t-test.

RESULTS: Of 322 medical students who received the questionnaire, 260 (81%) responded. The mean age of the students was 25 years and 54% were men. The mean knowledge score was 6.7 out of a possible score of 14. Third-year students had the best knowledge scores (7.6), followed by fourth- (7.4), second- (6.6) and first-year students (5.7). Teaching about organ donation and a student's comfort with approaching a family for organ donation were also predictive of higher knowledge scores. There was no correlation between knowledge score and age, gender or whether the student was carrying a signed donor card. Knowledge scores were low in all 3 sections. Thirty-six percent of students did not know that brain death means that the patient is dead rather than in a coma. Half the medical students believed that people of certain religious groups should not be approached about organ donation.

CONCLUSIONS: Medical students possess limited knowledge about organ donation topics important for maximizing procurement rates. A teaching intervention designed to target these shortcomings may be beneficial.

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