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Medical Student Exposure to Cancer Patients Whilst on Clinical Placement: a Retrospective Analyses of Clinical Log Books


In Australia, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Several studies have demonstrated a decline in the number of medical graduates having examined cancer patients during their training. The aim of this study was to evaluate the exposure of medical students to cancer patients during clinical placements. Eighty-eight logbooks (response rate = 24.75%) containing 9430 patients were analysed. A total of 829 patients (8.79%) had a diagnosis of cancer. Most cancer patients were seen on surgical placements, whilst general practice placements returned the lowest numbers. None were seen in paediatrics or ophthalmology. Given the role surgery plays in the staging and treatment of cancer, it is unsurprising that most cancer patients were seen during surgery.  Most concerning was the number of patients with common cancers seen by our students. Only 46% of students saw a patient with breast cancer. Even fewer saw patients with colorectal (41%), lung (32%) and prostate cancer (30%). Only 14% saw a melanoma patient. Variability in the quality of the logbooks is the main limitation of this study, and therefore, it is not a complete picture of cancer patient exposure. However, it builds upon previous studies by providing insight to the number and types of cancer patients to which students were exposed. Overall, the exposure to common cancers remains concerning and further research is needed to explore the type and quality of these interactions over the course of an entire year.

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The author would like to thank Associate Professor David Thorne for his feedback and comments on a draft of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Darren L. Starmer.

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This study received approval from the University of Notre Dame Australia Human Research Ethics Committee (approval number: 016180F).

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Starmer, D.L. Medical Student Exposure to Cancer Patients Whilst on Clinical Placement: a Retrospective Analyses of Clinical Log Books. J Canc Educ 34, 671–676 (2019).

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  • Medical student education
  • Clinical placement
  • Patient exposure