Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV if used consistently when prescribed. Despite the benefits of PrEP for high risk patients, medical students are largely undereducated on its impact in HIV prevention.
In the summer of 2015, Brandon Imp, an internal and preventive medicine resident at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center, and his fellow colleagues asked medical students from 18 different medical schools around the United States to complete a survey on their awareness and knowledge regarding PrEP.
Out of 1,588 medical school students surveyed, 28% were unaware of using PrEP for HIV prevention and analysis shows that 18% of students in their fourth year were never educated about PrEP while in medical school (compared to 40% of medical students in their first year). Better knowledge of PrEP would increase prescription, which is why early education in medical school is critical.
According to the research, 57% of students thought clinicians should try behavioral intervention before prescribing PrEP, 45% thought patients would not adhere to PrEP and 22% thought that PrEP was ineffective. Students who scored higher on the knowledge assessment were linked to being more confident when determining a patient’s candidacy for PrEP.
Due to the minimal education medical students have on PrEP combined with the overall underuse of PrEP in clinical practice, researchers recommend including PrEP education more frequently in medical school. The data collected from these medical students across the country reveal a large deficit in the medical education system that needs to be addressed.