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A qualitative analysis of medical students’ attitudes to abortion education in UK medical schools
  1. Corrina Horan1,2,
  2. Persia Ghassem Zadeh3,
  3. Catriona Rennison4,
  4. Lesley Hoggart5,
  5. Jayne Kavanagh6
  1. 1Community Sexual and Reproductive Health, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2EGA Institute for Women's Health, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3University of East Anglia Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Norwich, Norfolk, UK
  4. 4Trauma & Orthopaedics, Homerton University Hospital, London, UK
  5. 5Faculty of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  6. 6Medical Education, UCL Medical School, Royal Free Hospital, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Corrina Horan, Community Sexual and Reproductive Health, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London E9 6SR, UK; corrina.horan{at}


Background Despite abortion being a common part of reproductive healthcare, UK undergraduate medical school abortion education varies widely. We therefore aimed to explore medical students’ views on their undergraduate abortion education, including whether it prepared them to be a competent practitioner.

Methods We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 19 students from five UK medical schools, all of whom had received abortion teaching. The qualitative research followed a quantitative survey of UK undergraduate abortion education; the five medical schools were purposively sampled to encompass a wide variety of teaching approaches. Interviews were transcribed and data were analysed using an inductive thematic approach.

Results Dedicated abortion teaching was highlighted as necessary and valuable, as abortion care is so commonly accessed. Participants felt that abortion education should prepare students to be competent practitioners, with inclusion of clinical placements and an emphasis on non-stigmatising care. Most interviewees felt that the perceived sensitive nature of abortion should act as an incentive to comprehensive teaching. It was suggested that teaching should be inclusive for all, including those with a conscientious objection to abortion.

Conclusion The medical students interviewed viewed comprehensive abortion education as an important aspect of their undergraduate curriculum. Conversely to the accompanying quantitative survey of educators, participants believed that the perceived sensitivity of abortion increases the importance of effective teaching that prepares them to provide competent respectful care when they qualify. It is incumbent on medical schools to provide the comprehensive education that students need and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends.

  • abortion
  • induced
  • health education
  • reproductive rights
  • sexual health

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. Not applicable.

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Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. Not applicable.

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  • Twitter @CorrinaHoran, @CatrionaRennis1, @drhoggart

  • Contributors JK conceived of the study. JK, CH and CR planned the study. CH led the ethics application, with support from JK and CR. LH trained PGZ to conduct interviews. PGZ conducted the interviews and performed initial transcription. CH re-transcribed the interviews and conducted a thematic analysis on the transcribed results. LH and JK reviewed and further defined themes. CH wrote up and submitted the study for publication. CH and JK are responsible for the overall content as guarantors.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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