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Intellectual disability health content within medical curriculum: an audit of what our future doctors are taught

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posted on 2023-02-16, 00:00 authored by Julian N Trollor, Beth Ruffell, Jane TracyJane Tracy, Jennifer J Torr, Seeta Durvasula, Teresa IaconoTeresa Iacono, Claire Eagleson, Nicolas Lennox
Background: There is a high burden of unmet health needs for people with intellectual disability. Despite experiencing significantly higher rates of morbidity and mortality compared with the general population, this group faces greater barriers to accessing healthcare. While increasing workplace capacity is one way to reduce this inequitable access, previous research indicates a scarcity of undergraduate teaching in intellectual disability. The aim of the study was to determine the extent and nature of intellectual disability content currently offered within medical degree curricula. Methods: All Australian universities (n = 20) providing accredited medical training were invited to participate in a two-phase audit via an email invitation to the Dean of each medical school. The Dean's delegate from 14 medical schools completed Phase 1, which involved a questionnaire or telephone interview about the overall medical course structure. Unit coordinators and/or teaching staff from 12 medical schools completed Phase 2, which involved an online survey about intellectual disability content within the curriculum. Results: In Australia, medical school curricula contain a median of 2.55 h of compulsory intellectual disability content. The majority of universities only offer a small amount of compulsory content. Of compulsory units, intellectual disability teaching is minimal in sexual health and emergency medicine (only one unit offered in one school for each). Topics of key relevance in intellectual disability health such as human rights issues, interdisciplinary team work and preventative health are poorly represented in intellectual disability teaching. Elective content varies markedly across universities (1 to 122 h), but emergency medicine, women's health, men's health and many other specialist medicine areas are not represented. Inclusive practice is inconsistent in degree and nature, but a majority of universities (nine) involve people with intellectual disability in the development or delivery of content. Conclusions: There is a mismatch between the considerable unmet health needs of people with intellectual disability and the inconsistent teaching within medical schools. Future doctors will be better equipped to support the health and wellbeing of people with intellectual disability if curricula are enhanced in this area.


This research was funded by the NSW Government Family and Community Services, Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. The funding body did not have any role in the design, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, in the writing of the manuscript or decision to submit the manuscript for publication.


Publication Date



BMC Medical Education





Article Number



9p. (p. 1-9)


BioMed Central Ltd.



Rights Statement

© 2016 Trollor et al. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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