A qualitative analysis of medical students’ attitudes to abortion education in UK medical schools

Horan, C.; Zadeh, P. G.; Rennison, C.; Hoggart, L. and Kavanagh, J. (2022). A qualitative analysis of medical students’ attitudes to abortion education in UK medical schools. BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, 48 pp. 205–209.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsrh-2021-201385


Background Despite abortion being a common part of reproductive healthcare, UK undergraduate medical school abortion education varies widely. We therefore aimed to explore medical students’ views on their undergraduate abortion education, including whether it prepared them to be a competent practitioner.

Methods We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 19 students from five UK medical schools, all of whom had received abortion teaching. The qualitative research followed a quantitative survey of UK undergraduate abortion education; the five medical schools were purposively sampled to encompass a wide variety of teaching approaches. Interviews were transcribed and data were analysed using an inductive thematic approach.

Results Dedicated abortion teaching was highlighted as necessary and valuable, as abortion care is so commonly accessed. Participants felt that abortion education should prepare students to be competent practitioners, with inclusion of clinical placements and an emphasis on non-stigmatising care. Most interviewees felt that the perceived sensitive nature of abortion should act as an incentive to comprehensive teaching. It was suggested that teaching should be inclusive for all, including those with a conscientious objection to abortion.

Conclusion The medical students interviewed viewed comprehensive abortion education as an important aspect of their undergraduate curriculum. Conversely to the accompanying quantitative survey of educators, participants believed that the perceived sensitivity of abortion increases the importance of effective teaching that prepares them to provide competent respectful care when they qualify. It is incumbent on medical schools to provide the comprehensive education that students need and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends.

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