Another disconnect between MSers and the medical profession

What should we teach medical students about MS? #MSBlog #MSResearch

“The results of this survey below are interesting and show yet another disconnect between what the medical profession and MSers want medical students to learn about MS. This is important in that we need to make sure future generations of doctors are properly trained to address the needs of MSers. I note that MSers want doctors to be aware of social and attitudinal aspects of MS, whereas medical students wanted to know the facts. I remember being told that to be a successful medical student is that you need to be able to take in a regurgitate at will facts and large numbers of facts. With new technological developments, this becomes less important. In other words remembering facts are not that critical anymore and may be the MSers are right.”

“The problem we face in our medical school is how do you get neurology, never mind MS, onto the agenda. There is so much competition for face-time in medical school curriculum that there is very little time for any detailed teaching on any subject that is considered relatively rare. Fortunately, MS is relatively rare,but I make sure that all medical students get to clerk, i.e. see at least one, MSer in their training. Talking to MSers, examining them, looking at the MRI examination and other test results and then reading about the condition is the only way to learn about the disease. You will probably realise by now that we are living in the era of super-specialisation and MS is no different. It is therefore unrealistic to expect medical students to know more than what can be included on a single A4 sheet of paper. The following is my ‘fact sheet’ I give out with my PowerPoint lecture slides to our year 4 students; please note how superficial it is. This is why there is such a disconnect between what the curriculum wants and MSers want.”

Gibson et al. A questionnaire survey comparing the educational priorities of patients and medical students in the management of multiple sclerosis. JRSM Open. 2014 Dec 5;5(12):2054270414558656.

OBJECTIVE: To compare the educational priorities patients and students raise concerning the management of multiple sclerosis (MS).

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 255 people with multiple sclerosis (pwMS) and 125 final year medical students attending a mandatory module were invited to participate.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASUREMENTS: Questionnaires were developed and piloted for this study and analysed on the basis of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health terminology.

RESULTS: Questionnaires were returned by 125 (50%) pwMS (age range 36-86 years; median 58) and 96 (77%) medical students (age range 22-37 years; median 23). The most commonly reported priority listed by people with MS and students concerned ‘environmental contextual factors’ (95.5% and 99%, respectively). PwMS focused primarily on the ‘social and attitudinal aspects’ of the environment (53.6%), while students expressed greater interest in the use of medications (91.7%) and investigations (14.6%) (p < 0.001). People with greater psychological or physical impact of the condition were more likely to prioritise ‘health condition’ topics.

CONCLUSIONS: PwMS and medical students identify different topics when asked to list aspects of management of MS which they deem to be important for medical student teaching. These differences in educational priorities should be taken into consideration when teaching students about MS. The findings may also apply to other long-term neurological conditions and warrant further investigation. 

About the author

Prof G

Professor of Neurology, Barts & The London. MS & Preventive Neurology thinker, blogger, runner, vegetable gardener, husband, father, cook and wine & food lover.


  • Have a look at this award winning Patient partner Program being run by the University of Tasmania (Australia). Volunteer patients work with trainee doctors to help them develop clinical skills, and part of the program involves real people with long term chronic illnesses contributing to the trainees' understanding of what this means on a more personal and individual level. The chronic illnesses include those such as Crohn's disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Multiple Sclerosis, among others. It has to be a good thing to be incorporating a personal perspective, and help trainees learn that patients are people, not just a bunch of symptoms or a "diagnosis". I've just volunteered to be an MS Patient, and it will be interesting to see how it all works (at least my MS might produce some benefits for someone!!!)

  • Wow, this is depressing. My thought are coloured by have depression at the moment and also by reading a lot of information from people who have little or no support from doctors for their MS. Lots of reasons for this, some highlighted here and much to do with lack of expert knowledge outside major hospitals with MS specialists. I'm shocked by the horrible stories recounted by pwMS who have been denied treatment, have no access to specialist nurses, those with PPMs, discharged as inpatients and told there is nothing that can be done. There is little understanding among the general public either. I realise I'm lucky to have an MS specialist at the National Hospital for Neurology and a excellent MS nurse in my local area as well as access to a great OT and neuro-psychologist Plus a GP who understands MS. This is because I live in London, I dread to think how it would be in a more remote area of the UK. And let's not forget the cuts in funding.

By Prof G



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