Do you think it’s a disease? A survey of medical students | BMC Medical Education | 3 April 2012

April 3, 2012

From BMC Medical Education, 3 April 2012.

Chrissy Erueti (1*) *Corresponding author Email:; Paul Glasziou (1); Chris Del Mar (2); Mieke L van Driel (3,4)
(1) Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Gold Coast 4229, Queensland, Australia
(2) Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
(3) Discipline of General Practice, School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
(4) Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium


BACKGROUND: The management of medical conditions is influenced by whether clinicians regard them as “disease” or “not a disease”. The aim of the survey was to determine how medical students classify a range of conditions they might encounter in their professional lives and whether a different name for a condition would influence their decision in the categorisation of the condition as a ‘disease’ or ‘not a disease’.

METHODS: We surveyed 3 concurrent years of medical students to classify 36 candidate conditions into “disease” and “non-disease”. The conditions were given a ‘medical’ label and a (lay) label and positioned where possible in alternate columns of the survey.

RESULTS: The response rate was 96% (183 of 190 students attending a lecture): 80% of students concurred on 16 conditions as “disease” (eg diabetes, tuberculosis), and 4 as “non-disease” (eg baldness, menopause, fractured skull and heat stroke). The remaining 16 conditions (with 21-79% agreement) were more contentious (especially obesity, infertility, hay fever, alcoholism, and restless leg syndrome). Three pairs of conditions had both a more, and a less, medical label: the more medical labels (myalgic encephalomyelitis, hypertension, and erectile dysfunction) were more frequently classified as ‘disease’ than the less medical (chronic fatigue syndrome, high blood pressure, and impotence), respectively, significantly different for the first two pairs.

CONCLUSIONS: Some conditions excluded from the classification of “disease” were unexpected (eg fractured skull and heat stroke). Students were mostly concordant on what conditions should be classified as “disease”. They were more likely to classify synonyms as ‘disease’ if the label was medical. The findings indicate there is still a problem 30 years on in the concept of ‘what is a disease’. Our findings suggest that we should be addressing such concepts to medical students.

To download the full provisional article, please click HERE.

2 thoughts on “Do you think it’s a disease? A survey of medical students | BMC Medical Education | 3 April 2012”

  1. More reason for EVERYONE to refuse to use the label CFS and only ever use the correct diagnosis ME.

  2. Not surprising; after eight years and counting of suffering with M.E. I have seen five different G.P.’s, only one of whom believes I have anything physically wrong with me. The attitude of many primary care physicians in this country appears to be “don’t know, don’t care.”

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