Introduction Outbreaks of serious communicable infectious diseases remain a major global medical problem and force healthcare workers to make hard choices with limited information, resources and time. While information regarding physicians’ opinions about such dilemmas is available, research discussing students’ opinions is more limited.
Methods Medical students were surveyed about their willingness to perform medical procedures on patients with communicable diseases as students and as physicians. Students were asked about their opinions regarding the duty to treat in such cases.
Results 74% of respondents felt that by deciding to enter medical school they were morally obliged to treat any patient despite the risks. Students’ willingness to treat as physicians is significantly higher than their willingness to treat as students. HIV was significantly the most tolerated disease with respect to performing mouth to mouth resuscitation. Among preclinical students, we found that willingness to treat during the later years is significantly greater than during the earlier years. Among clinical students, the opposite was observed.
Discussion Students’ greater willingness to treat as physicians is mostly attributed to perceptions of higher obligations as a qualified doctor. There is greater but not total willingness to perform resuscitation on patients with HIV relative to other diseases. The increased willingness of preclinical students and the decreased willingness of clinical students both emphasise the importance of patient–physician communication and ethics studies during medical school.
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