Teaching medical students about medically unexplained illnesses: a preliminary study

Med Teach. 2008;30(6):618-21. doi: 10.1080/01421590801946970.


Background: This study examined how an interactive seminar focusing on two medically unexplained illnesses, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia, influenced medical student attitudes toward CFS, a more strongly stigmatized illness.

Methods: Forty-five fourth year medical students attended a 90 minute interactive seminar on the management of medically unexplained illnesses that was exemplified with CFS and fibromyalgia. A modified version of the CFS attitudes test was administered immediately before and after the seminar.

Results: Pre-seminar assessment revealed neutral to slightly favorable toward CFS. At the end of the seminar, significantly more favorable attitudes were found toward CFS in general (t (42) = 2.77; P < 0.01) and for specific items that focused on (1) supporting more CFS research funding (t (42) = 4.32; P < 0.001; (2) employers providing flexible hours for people with CFS (t (42) = 3.52, P < 0.01); and (3) viewing CFS as not primarily a psychological disorder (t (42) = 2.87, P < 0.01). Thus, a relatively brief exposure to factual information on specific medically unexplained illnesses was associated with more favorable attitudes toward CFS in fourth year medical students.

Conclusion: This type of instruction may lead to potentially more receptive professional attitudes toward providing care to these underserved patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Family Practice / education
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prejudice
  • Problem-Based Learning / methods*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Psychiatry / education
  • Somatoform Disorders
  • Students, Medical / psychology*