Medical Students’ Knowledge of Autism Compared to the General Population: A Pilot Study

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Adam T. Blancher
Michelle M. Yetman


Background: Historically, there has been some concern regarding the level of training in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for medical students. Throughout medical programs in the US, there is no standardised curriculum, and therefore, to make improvements in this area of medical training, a first step is to determine the current areas of competency of medical students. This pilot study investigated whether differences exist in knowledge among third-year medical students and a general population sample.
Methods: We investigated beliefs about autism among a group of third-year medical students (n = 202) and among a crowdsourced sample of the general public (n = 858). A survey assessed autism knowledge regarding sources of information, causes, age of earliest diagnosis, front-line treatment providers, and diagnostic versus non-diagnostic symptoms. The third-year medical student sample was obtained from a Health Sciences Center in the Southwest. Third-year medical students were surveyed during their paediatrics rotation. The general public sample accessed and completed the survey through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform.
Results: Results suggested that although third-year medical students had lower confidence regarding their autism-knowledge base, they possessed more knowledge of autism related to sources of information, causes, and diagnostic testing options than the comparison sample. Additionally, they were significantly better at differentiating diagnostic symptoms from non-diagnostic symptoms.
Conclusions: Overall, the results suggest that by their third year, medical students know more about autism than the general public. Results from the current study indicate an improvement in medical students’ knowledge with respect to autism. Treatment options and the continued need for more training to enhance medical student confidence are discussed.

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