People with intellectual disability (ID) have multiple and complex health needs, more frequent healthcare episodes, and experience poorer health outcomes. Research conducted two decades ago showed that medical professionals were lacking in the knowledge and skills required to address the complex needs of this patient group. The aim of the current study was to determine whether Australian undergraduate medical schools that offer ID health education content had changed the amount and nature of such teaching over this period.
Identical or equivalent questionnaire items were compared across eight Australian medical schools that participated in curricula audits conducted in 1995 (referred to as T1) and 2013/14 (T2). The audits were of the nature of the ID content, methods used to teach it, and who taught it.
There was no significant difference in the number of hours of compulsory ID content offered to medical students at T2 (total = 158.3 h; median = 2.8 h per ID unit) compared with T1 (total = 171 h; median = 2.5 h). At T2 compared with T1, units with ID content taught in the area of general practice had increased (2 units; 3.6% to 7 units; 16.3%), while decreases were seen in paediatrics (22 units; 40.0% to 10 units; 23.3%) and psychiatry (10 units; 18.2% to 4 units; 9.3%). The number of schools using problem- and/or enquiry-based learning rose to six at T2 from one at T1. Inclusive teaching practices (people with ID develop or deliver content) in compulsory/elective units had increased at T2 (10 units; 23.3%) compared with T1 (6 units; 10.9%), but direct clinical contact with people with ID had decreased (29 units; 52.7% to 11 units; 25.6%).
Overall, little progress has been made to address the gaps in ID education for medical students identified from an audit conducted in 1995. Renewal of ID content in medical curricula is indicated as a key element in efforts to improve workforce capacity in this area and reduce barriers to care, with the aim of reversing the poor health outcomes currently seen for this group.