The use and misuse of alcohol, drugs and tobacco is one of the greatest health challenges today. It impacts on patients, their families, and the community in general. Those who misuse substances will inevitably be seen by doctors, who therefore have a vital role to play in recognising substance misuse and in assessing and managing the problems associated with this.

Substance misuse as a subject in the medical curriculum does not have a high profile, and it is timely that this project seeks to address this. If our future doctors are to succeed in dealing with the problem of substance misuse they require a better understanding of the problem and the interventions which are available.

In 2005 a national project was set up and led by the late Professor Hamid Ghodse, Director of the International Centre for Drug Policy (ICDP). The activities of the project were overseen by a national Steering Committee, that was chaired by Professor Peter Kopelman, Principal of St George’s, with representatives from the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, the Department of Health, the Home Office, the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association and its medical student committee, and the World Health Organisation. The overall of aim of the project from its inception in 2005 to the present is to improve the education of future doctors in substance misuse issues.

In 2007 the key outcome of phase one of the project was curriculum guidance on undergraduate medical student education in substance misuse, covering learning, teaching and societal aspects. The document ‘Substance Misuse in the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum’ and its associated tool-kit document cover core aims and learning outcomes for undergraduate curricula, and good practice on delivery. It was developed through a process involving medical and curriculum experts across the range of specialties, and was endorsed by the Chief Medical Officer and the General Medical Council. 

Between 2008-11 Professor Peter Kopelman, Principal of St George’s and Chairman of the National Steering Committee on Substance Misuse in the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum, and Professor Ghodse led the second phase of this project to implement this guidance and validate the tool kit in English medical schools. Supported by funding from the Department of Health, time-limited curriculum co-ordinators worked with local academic champions within medical schools to assess the suitability of current teaching on substance misuse and recommend and support changes to ensure that teaching on substance misuse met national guidelines. This phase has resulted in the publication of the 2012 report, Substance Misuse in the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum Project Report (Executive Summary). Key findings include:

• There is an agreed high –level curriculum established across UK medical schools
• Focusing support for implementation of the new curriculum at a local level has contributed to substantial improvements in the extent and quality of teaching on drug and alcohol issues
• The curriculum has been mapped and learning objectives aligned to Tomorrow’s Doctors 2009
• High quality, practical and flexible teaching materials have been developed and validated by experts.

A third phase focusing on sustainability is currently underway and is focusing on developing a network for those teaching in substance misuse and updating learning resources. Funding for the network and for updating of factsheets has been awarded by PHE and the Society for the Study of Addiction.

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Last Updated: Friday, 14 August 2015 14:08

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