Medical Schools Need More Terrorism Response Training

An emergency manager from the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron tapes down the mask of an Airman during a simulated dirty bomb attack, Aug. 24, 2012, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

Airman 1st Class Chacarra Walker/U.S. Air Force

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An emergency manager from the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron tapes down the mask of an Airman during a simulated dirty bomb attack, Aug. 24, 2012, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

Despite a warning from experts more than 10 years ago, the nation's medical schools still have a way to go toward preparing their students for chemical weapon attacks. By Diane Barnes

A team of professors near New York City wants to make terrorism a larger focus for medical-school students across the United States.

A plan now taking shape would insert discussions of terror threats — such as a biochemistry-course lecture on nerve agents — throughout the four-year curriculum at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said Leonard Cole, director of the school’s Terror Medicine and Security Program.

If a crowd of people suddenly begins “shaking and quivering and frothing at the mouth … it would not be a smart thing for you to run and try to help,” he said, referencing the symptoms shown by hundreds of people in last year’s sarin-gas strikes in Syria.

Cole said that kind of awareness is still largely absent in U.S. medical schools, despite a call issued more than a decade ago by an organization that helps to accredit them. Writing for the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2003, an expert panel declared that dealing with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks should be “an integral component” of what medical schools teach.

The recommendation is “still not yet broadly implemented,” Cole told Global Security Newswirein a June telephone interview. “We want to inculcate in the culture of our medical school and our medical curriculum the notion that this is just part of what you have to learn to be prepared for. The kids, as they graduate, [now] really don’t have that sense.”

The proposal under consideration at Rutgers would insert talk about unconventional weapons and other terrorism threats into numerous medical-school classes, as well as its first-year orientation. Students also would have an option to take a final-year course focusing on such dangers exclusively, Cole said.

If we are successful, there’s no reason we couldn’t expect others to be successful,” he said. Cole and other school faculty plan to explore teaching recommendations in a series of medical-journal articles now under preparation.

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