Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patient safety education for undergraduate medical students: a systematic review

Yanli Nie1, Lin Li2, Yurong Duan1, Peixian Chen2, Bruce H Barraclough3, Mingming Zhang1* and Jing Li4*

Author Affiliations

1 Chinese Evidence-Based Medicine Centre, West China Hospital Sichuan University, Chengdu 610041. P.R. China

2 West China School of Medicine, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610041. P.R. China

3 Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. East Melbourne VIC 3002 Australia

4 Department of Evidence-Based Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610041. P.R. China

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:33  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-33

Published: 14 June 2011



To reduce harm caused by health care is a global priority. Medical students should be able to recognize unsafe conditions, systematically report errors and near misses, investigate and improve such systems with a thorough understanding of human fallibility, and disclose errors to patients. Incorporating the knowledge of how to do this into the medical student curriculum is an urgent necessity. This paper aims to systematically review the literature about patient safety education for undergraduate medical students in terms of its content, teaching strategies, faculty availability and resources provided so as to identify evidence on how to promote patient safety in the curriculum for medical schools. This paper includes a perspective from the faculty of a medical school, a major hospital and an Evidence Based Medicine Centre in Sichuan Province, China.


We searched MEDLINE, ERIC, Academic Source Premier(ASP), EMBASE and three Chinese Databases (Chinese Biomedical Literature Database, CBM; China National Knowledge Infrastructure, CNKI; Wangfang Data) from 1980 to Dec. 2009. The pre-specified form of inclusion and exclusion criteria were developed for literature screening. The quality of included studies was assessed using Darcy Reed and Gemma Flores-Mateo criteria. Two reviewers selected the studies, undertook quality assessment, and data extraction independently. Differing opinions were resolved by consensus or with help from the third person.


This was a descriptive study of a total of seven studies that met the selection criteria. There were no relevant Chinese studies to be included. Only one study included patient safety education in the medical curriculum and the remaining studies integrated patient safety into clinical rotations or medical clerkships. Seven studies were of a pre and post study design, of which there was only one controlled study. There was considerable variation in relation to contents, teaching strategies, faculty knowledge and background in patient safety, other resources and outcome evaluation in these reports. The outcomes from including patient safety in the curriculum as measured by medical students' knowledge, skills, and attitudes varied between the studies.


There are only a few relevant published studies on the inclusion of patient safety education into the undergraduate curriculum in medical schools either as a selective course, a lecture program, or by being integrated into the existing curriculum even in developed countries with advanced health and education systems. The integration of patient safety education into the existing curriculum in medical schools internationally, provides significant challenges.