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Teaching about disasters in medical education: the need for international collaboration

Dear Editors,

Pfenninger et al. [1] presented in a recent research paper an outline of a curriculum covering medical student disaster education. Their work demonstrated an interdisciplinary format and multi-experiential structure for a curriculum. However, understanding the rationales for including such a component in a medical curriculum might need to be clearly highlighted. Furthermore, many universities are lacking expertise in this area and find it challenging to take such decisions. These two issues were not adequately addressed by Pfenninger et al. in their paper.

Disasters caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones, other natural disasters or terrorist attacks put us in situations with a high level of threat to life, property and the environment. The recent earthquake in January 2010 in the Haitian region reflects the wide scale of such damages [1]. However, looking carefully beyond this catastrophe, we realize that there has been an increasing pattern of such disasters over the last 10 years (Table 1). A careful review of data reveals that disasters caused by earthquakes with such large scale have not occurred since the 1920 Haiyuan earthquake in China. Such a trend raises the need for including a training component in the undergraduate medical and other health professional curricula covering disaster management systems and public health preparedness. The aim is to enable graduates to be prepared for risk management, how to work as part of a team and how to use a wide range of skills to respond to potential disasters in an increasingly interconnected world. Searching PubMed for medical schools that have included disasters in their programs reveals that there are a few programs covering parts of this concept [35]. Leadership in modern medicine and global health and the need in such disasters for expertise of diverse groups of health professionals necessitate that such programs be developed by collaboration between universities in the risk areas and other universities. Such initiatives might open new scopes of collaboration in the area of global health, medical education and students’ training.

Table 1 Deaths from major earthquakes, natural disasters and terror attacks from 1999 to 2010*


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Correspondence to Samy A. Azer.

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Azer, S.A. Teaching about disasters in medical education: the need for international collaboration. Int J Emerg Med 3, 529–530 (2010).

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