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Open Access Research article

Improving medical students' attitudes towards the chronic sick: a role for social science research

Kenneth Mullen1*, Malcolm Nicolson2 and Philip Cotton3

Author Affiliations

1 Academic Unit for Mental Health and Wellbeing, School of Medicine, University of Glasgow, 1st Floor Admin Building, Gartnavel Royal Hospital, 1055 Great Western Road, Glasgow G12 0XH, UK

2 Centre for the History of Medicine, Lilybank House, Bute Gardens, University of Glasgow, G12 8RT, UK

3 Section of General Practice and Primary Care, School of Medicine, University of Glasgow, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:84  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-84

Published: 22 November 2010



Many medical students are negatively disposed toward the elderly and chronic sick. The present study assessed the impact of a community-based teaching initiative, the Life History Project, on students' attitudes to these groups.


A questionnaire including Likert based responses and free text comments was distributed to all first-year MBChB students after completion of their Life History coursework. Data was analysed using SPSS and content analysis.


A high proportion of students believed the Life History Project had increased their understanding of both psychological and social aspects of health and illness and the role of the humanistic social sciences within this. We discovered that the Life History Project not only gave students first-hand experience of the elderly and chronic sick but also had a positive effect on their attitudes towards these groups. The qualitative free text comments corroborated these views.


It is possible to positively influence medical students' attitudes towards these stigmatised groups; it is therefore important that we continue to enhance opportunities for learning about the impact of chronic illness on individuals and society throughout the curriculum.