Background: A strategy for reducing mental illness-related stigma in health-profession students is to include contact-based sessions in their educational curricula. In such sessions students are able to interact socially with a person that has a mental illness. We sought to evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy in a multi-centre study of pharmacy students.
Methods: The study was a randomized controlled trial conducted at three sites. Because it was necessary that all students receive the contact-based sessions, the students were randomized either to an early or late intervention, with the late intervention group not having participated in the contact-based education at the time when the primary outcome was assessed. The primary outcome, stigma, was assessed using an attitudes scale called the Opening Minds Survey for Health Care Providers (OMS-HC).
Results: We initially confirmed that outcomes were homogeneous across study centres, centre by group interaction, p = 0.76. The results were pooled across the three study centres. A significant reduction in stigma was observed in association with the contact-based sessions (mean change 4.3 versus 1.5, t=2.1, p=0.04). The effect size (Cohen's d) was 0.45. A similar reduction was seen in the control group when they later received the intervention.
Conclusions: Contact-based education is an effective method of reducing stigma during pharmacy education. These results add to a growing literature confirming the effectiveness of contact-based strategies for stigma reduction in health profession trainees.