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Substance misuse is prevalent in almost all branches of medicine. As a result, there are extensive opportunities to teach and learn about it. However, this also leads to the risk that the topic may be fragmented, poorly coordinated and spread too thinly, so that it is often ultimately barely visible to students.  In the UK, a Substance Misuse in the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum project was funded with the aim of improving the teaching of substance misuse to medical undergraduates so as to enhance medical education in and intervention thus improving treatment services. It impacts on patients, their families, and the community in general. Those who misuse substances will inevitably be seen by doctors, and other health professionals who therefore have a vital role to play in recognizing 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.

This project has comprised three phases. In Phase 1, during 2005-2007, a UK corporate guidance document was developed that set out core aims and learning outcomes for substance misuse teaching and learning in the undergraduate medical curricula. Phase 2, during 2008-2011 focused on implementing the guidance through the appointment of curriculum coordinators in English medical schools to identify what substance misuse teaching was being undertaken, and to recommend changes to ensure that substance misuse issues were fully covered. A third phase, established in 2012, has focused on maintaining  and updating resources covering substance misuse relevant to a range of clinical conditions, groups of patients, specialties and settings.

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 (PDF) and its associated tool-kit document (PDF) 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.

The second phase (2008-2011) provided a time-limited period of intensive support for the development and implementation of the new curriculum guidance into the teaching and learning opportunities of the medical schools at a local level, and into their local curriculum planning processes; promoted a self-sustaining network of all English medical schools involved in changing their curricula; and developed and validated a toolkit This phase has resulted in the publication of the 2012 report, Substance Misuse in the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum Project Report (PDF). You can also download the Executive Summary (PDF).

The third phase, funded by PHE and the Society for the Study of Addiction, is focusing on the maintenance and updating of the factsheets. Since then the factsheets have been reviewed and updated on a regular basis and new titles developed. They are freely available to download at Society for the Study of Addiction Knowledge Hub.

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