Background: Tobacco dependence counseling is recommended to be included as core curriculum for US medical students. To date, there has been little information on students' self-reported skills and practice opportunities to provide 5A's (Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist, and Arrange) counseling for tobacco cessation.
Methods: We conducted anonymous surveys of second year and fourth year students at multiple US medical schools between February 2004 and March 2005 (overall response rate 70%). We report on the tobacco control practices of the 860 second year and 827 fourth year students completing the survey.
Measurements and main results: Fourth year students reported multiple opportunities to learn tobacco counseling in case-based discussions, simulated patient encounters, and clinical skills courses. They reported more instruction in family medicine (79%) and Internal Medicine (70%) than Pediatrics (54%), Obstetrics/Gynecology (41%), and Surgery clerkships (16%). Compared with asking patients about smoking, advising smokers to quit, and assessing patient willingness to quit, fourth year students were less likely to have multiple practice opportunities to assist the patient with a quit plan and arrange follow-up contact. More than half of second year students reported multiple opportunities for asking patients about smoking but far fewer opportunities for practicing the other 4 As.
Conclusions: By the beginning of their fourth year, most students in this group of medical schools reported multiple opportunities for training and practicing basic 5A counseling, although clear deficits for assisting patients with a quit plan and arranging follow-up care exist. Addressing these deficits and integrating tobacco teaching through tailored specific instruction across all clerkships, particularly in Surgery, Pediatrics, and Obstetrics/Gynecology is a challenge for medical school education.