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A pilot study of medical student attitudes to, and use of, commercial movies that address public health issues

Peter Gallagher1, Nick Wilson2*, Richard Edwards2, Rachael Cowie2 and Michael G Baker2

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Education Unit, University of Otago, Wellington, PO Box 7343 Wellington South 6021, New Zealand

2 Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, PO Box 7343 Wellington South 6021, New Zealand

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:111  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-111

Published: 7 April 2011



An innovative approach to learning public health by using feature-length commercial movies was piloted in the fourth year of a medical degree. We aimed to explore how students responded to this approach and the relative effectiveness of two promotional strategies. Firstly we placed DVDs of 15 movies (with public health-related content) in the medical school library. Then alternating groups of students (total n = 82 students) were exposed to either a brief promotional intervention or a more intensive intervention involving a class presentation. The response rates were 99% at baseline and 85% at follow-up.


The level and strength of support for using movies in public health training increased after exposure to the public health module with significantly more students "strongly agreeing". Student behaviour, in terms of movies viewed or accessed from the library, also suggested student interest. While there were no statistically significant differences in median viewing or library access rates between the two intervention groups, the distribution of viewing patterns was shifted favourably. Those exposed to the more intensive intervention (class presentation) were significantly more likely to have reported watching at least one movie (97% vs. 81%; p = 0.033) or to having accessed at least one movie from the library (100% vs. 70%, p = 0.0001).


This pilot study found that the students had very positive attitudes towards viewing public health-related commercial movies. Movie access rates from the library were also favourable.