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Open Access Research article

Personal health promotion at US medical schools: a quantitative study and qualitative description of deans' and students' perceptions

Erica Frank1*, Joan Hedgecock2 and Lisa K Elon3

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. of Family and Preventive Medicine Emory University School of Medicine 49 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA

2 American Medical Student Association/Foundation 1902 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191, USA

3 Department of Biostatistics Emory University Rollins School of Public Health 336 G.C. Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2004, 4:29  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-4-29

Published: 6 December 2004



Prior literature has shown that physicians with healthy personal habits are more likely to encourage patients to adopt similar habits. However, despite the possibility that promoting medical student health might therefore efficiently improve patient outcomes, no one has studied whether such promotion happens in medical school. We therefore wished to describe both typical and outstanding personal health promotion environments experienced by students in U.S. medical schools.


We collected information through four different modalities: a literature review, written surveys of medical school deans and students, student and dean focus groups, and site visits at and interviews with medical schools with reportedly outstanding student health promotion programs.


We found strong correlations between deans' and students' perceptions of their schools' health promotion environments, including consistent support of the idea of schools' encouraging healthy student behaviors, with less consistent follow-through by schools on this concept. Though students seemed to have thought little about the relationships between their own personal and clinical health promotion practices, deans felt strongly that faculty members should model healthy behaviors.


Deans' support of the relationship between physicians' personal and clinical health practices, and concern about their institutions' acting on this relationship augurs well for the role of student health promotion in the future of medical education. Deans seem to understand their students' health environment, and believe it could and should be improved; if this is acted on, it could create important positive changes in medical education and in disease prevention.