PURPOSE: Relatively little is known about how medical genetics is being taught in the undergraduate medical curriculum and whether educators concur regarding topical priority. This study sought to document the current state of medical genetics education in U.S. and Canadian accredited medical schools. METHOD: In August 2004, surveys were sent from the Indiana University School of Medicine to 149 U.S. and Canadian medical genetics course directors or curricular deans. Returned surveys were collected through June 2005. Participants were asked about material covered, number of contact hours, year in which the course was offered, and what department sponsored the course. Data were collated according to instructional method and course content. RESULTS: The response rate was 75.2%. Most respondents (77%) taught medical genetics in the first year of medical school; only half (47%) reported that medical genetics was incorporated into the third and fourth years. About two thirds of respondents (62%) devoted 20 to 40 hours to medical genetics instruction, which was largely concerned with general concepts (86%) rather than practical application (11%). Forty-six percent of respondents reported teaching a stand-alone course versus 54% who integrated medical genetics into another course. Topics most commonly taught were cancer genetics (94.2%), multifactorial inheritance (91.3%), Mendelian disorders (90.3%), clinical cytogenetics (89.3%), and patterns of inheritance (87.4%). CONCLUSIONS: The findings provide important baseline data relative to guidelines recently established by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Ultimately, improved genetics curricula will help train physicians who are knowledgeable and comfortable discussing and answering questions about genetics with their patients.
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