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Domestic violence education inadequate across UK medical schools, finds new study

Press release issued: 6 October 2017

Teaching on domestic violence and abuse (DVA) should be mandatory in medical education according to a new University of Bristol study that highlights current levels as inadequate.

DVA is a major violation of human rights that damages the health of women, men and their children.  Thirty-five per cent of women worldwide have suffered abuse from their husband or partner.1 NICE guidelines recommend that teaching about DVA should be an integral part of medical education. 

The study, published today [6 Oct] in The Clinical Teacher, analysed the results of an online survey completed by primary care teaching leads at 25 out of 34 medical schools to assess the extent and adequacy of DVA education provided in the UK.

Twenty-one medical schools reported delivering some form of DVA education, however 11 reported providing only 0 to two contact hours on the subject over a five-year degree. Most of the schools offering DVA education were found to offer this as part of a teaching session or lecture between years three to five delivered by a range of different methods and providers across different modules.

The authors recommend more consistency and structure in DVA curricular content and, in line with NICE guidance, that policy makers consider making DVA education mandatory.

Dr Lucy Potter, the study’s lead author from Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC), said: “Doctors are central to the identification, safety and referral of DVA survivors, who are more likely to disclose abuse to them than to any other professionals.  These findings show there is considerable variation in how much DVA education is taught to UK medical students.  When considering the profound impact on health and wellbeing it is imperative that the future generation of doctors are equipped with sufficient training to be able to recognise the signs of DVA in patients and manage or refer them through the appropriate channels.”

Professor Gene Feder, study co-author, who leads research on DVA at the CAPC said: “We need to move beyond tokenism with regard to DVA in medical training. This is long overdue and requires a national effort, not dependent on champions in individual medical schools.”

The authors conclude that the marginal presence of DVA in the medical undergraduate curriculum is inadequate in light of the DVA’s impact on health. They recommend increasing the content and integrating it into the curriculum at several points, from pre-clinical to clinical years.

The study was funded by the Scientific Foundation Board of the Royal College of General Practitioners.


Domestic violence teaching in UK medical schools: a cross-sectional study’ by Lucy C Potter and Gene Feder in The Clinical Teacher [open access]

Further information

1. World Health Organisation Global and regional estimates of violence against women

For help and support on domestic violence, these services provide free helplines:

RESPECT Phoneline: Confidential helpline offering advice, information and support to help men stop being violent and abusive to partners. Monday-Friday 9am-5pm: 0808 802 4040

National Domestic Violence 24 hr Helpline for women experiencing abuse: 0808 2000 247

Men’s Advice Line for men experiencing abuse: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm: 0808 801 0327

National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428

Domestic violence facts

Domestic violence and abuse is defined by the UK government as ‘any incident or pattern of incident of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality’.

Globally, direct experience of being subjected to domestic violence is greater among women then among men. In the UK, 27 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men have experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. 

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