Context: In order to design undergraduate medical education responsive to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that physicians learn about special education law and practices, it is important to understand medical students’ baseline knowledge about children with disabilities, special education law, available services, and the sources of this information.
Objectives: To develop an instrument to measure what second-year medical students know about children with disabilities, special education law, and available services; to determine the most common sources of this information; and to establish a baseline on which to design curricula that address this topic.
Methods: This study adopted a survey design. The survey took place in 1 school of osteopathic medicine in a Northeastern state of the United States. One hundred fifty medical students in their second year of full-time enrollment were invited to complete the survey. The instrument designed by the authors consisted of 30 items organized into a demographics section and 3 domains: (1) perceived level of knowledge about children with disabilities, (2) sources of information about children with disabilities, and (3) actual knowledge about children with disabilities and special education.
Results: Ninety-eight students (65%) participated. Although students were accurate in self-assessment, their source of knowledge was limited. Medical students who identified personal experiences (t=1.64) and coursework as their source of knowledge had more correct responses (t=2.62).
Conclusion: This preliminary study demonstrated a lack of knowledge among second-year medical students with regard to children with disabilities, special education laws, and social services. Curricula emphasizing disabilities and special education along with longitudinal experiential training may be effective methods to deliver these topics.