Despite Progress, More Action Needed To Protect Medical Students From Exposure,,To Disease Through Accidental Needlesticks, UCSF Study Finds

While health workers -- risk of exposure to infectious disease through accidental needlesticks has been greatly reduced through comprehensive training programs and the introduction of new safety devices, a new study by researchers at UC San Francisco finds that medical students remain at high risk of exposure. In the first comprehensive, long-term study of medical students -- risk of needlesticks and other exposures to blood, the UCSF team found that 11.7 percent of the students studied over a seven-year period sustained possible exposure to blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. None of the students in the study reported contracting a disease as a result of an accidental exposure.

The study, reported in an article appearing in the January 5 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, included 1,022 third and fourth-year medical students from the classes of 1990-1996 who trained at UCSF-affiliated hospitals. Emilie H. Osborn, MD, MPH, the lead author of the study, noted that students in these classes benefited from UCSF's leadership in training and occupational safety programs designed to prevent needlestick injuries. But, the study reveals that they continue to face a higher risk than expected, said Osborn, a physician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and former associate dean of student affairs at UCSF.

The results of the study demonstrate the need for greater supervision of medical students, Osborn said. "We have to protect medical students from their own eagerness to learn new things and from pressure from others not to ask for assistance," Osborn said. "Students have to be encouraged to say to their supervisors, 'I can't do that. I want to watch you do it.'"

In an editorial accompanying the study, Daniel D. Federman, MD, of the Harvard Medical School, notes that there is inherent risk in the practice of medicine and, in turn, in the study of medicine. Medical education demands that students participate actively and important

Contact: Bill Gordon
University of California - San Francisco

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