Disaster preparedness in medical training needs to be a part of the new normal

Doctors of BC published a policy paper on integrating physicians in disaster preparedness and health emergency management back in 2018.[1] The current pandemic has again put a spotlight on this important discussion. As we plan for the postpandemic world, we need to increase disaster preparedness and health emergency management awareness, not only among physicians, but also among medical students and residents.

The call to increase awareness in disaster preparedness among medical learners is not new. The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations published a policy statement in 2017[2] calling to better “incorporate disaster medicine and health emergency management into the medical curricula, balancing the biomedical and public health dimensions.” A recent systematic review of disaster training programs also highlighted that when medical schools incorporate these programs for medical students, they improve their preparedness, skills, and knowledge—especially during times of pandemic.[3]

In Canada, there is an expectation from the public for physicians to be prepared for, respond to, and manage the consequences of a disaster. Although medical schools acknowledged that expectation, forty-six percent of the surveyed medical schools do not teach disaster medicine to learners.[4]

To address this gap in medical training, there exist many frameworks and examples. For instance, the National Collaborative for Disaster Health Education and Research in Australia developed a framework to guide disaster preparedness training and to ensure consistency and ease of implementation.[5] Ashcroft and colleagues also demonstrated the effectiveness of using multimodal formats and suggested a structure for disaster preparedness training based on their systematic review.[3] Even simple, classroom-based interactive discussions resulted in improved knowledge among students.

The current pandemic has shown us that a disaster doesn’t just affect a few specialties, such as public health, emergency, critical care, and family medicine; it can have impacts on all disciplines of medicine. While we cannot predict when another disaster or health emergency will happen, we can do our best to raise awareness and competency among our learners—help them understand the basics of disaster preparedness and become better equipped to respond to health emergencies both as learners and as future physicians.

By incorporating disaster preparedness early in the medical curriculum, we help learners build reflexes early on in their training. We also create a culture that is fundamental to integrating physicians in disaster preparedness and health emergency management.

Recovery in the postpandemic world cannot mean merely returning to the old ways. The new normal requires us not to build back, but rather to build back better.
—Derek C. Chang, MD
—Graham Dodd, MD
Members, Emergency and Public Safety Committee


This article is the opinion of the Emergency and Public Safety Committee, a subcommittee of Doctors of BC’s Council on Health Promotion, and is not necessarily the opinion of Doctors of BC. This article has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.


1.    Doctors of BC. Improving collaboration in times of crisis: Integrating physicians in disaster preparedness and health emergency management. 2018. Accessed 26 May 2021. www.doctorsofbc.ca/sites/default/files/disaster_preparedness_policy_paper_web_id_235753.pdf.

2.    Integrated Federation of Medical Students’ Association. IFMSA policy document – disaster and emergency management. 2017. Accessed 26 May 2021. https://ifmsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/GS_2017AM_Policy_Disaster-and-Emergency-Management.pdf.

3.    Ashcroft J, Byrne MH, Brennan PA, Davies RJ. Preparing medical students for a pandemic: A systematic review of student disaster training programmes. Postgrad Med J 2021;97:368-379.

4.    Cummings GE, Della Corte F, Cummings GG. Disaster medicine education in Canadian medical schools before and after September 11, 2001. CJEM 2005;7:399-405.

5.    FitzGerald GJ, Aitken P, Arbon P, et al. A national framework for disaster health education in Australia. Prehosp Disaster Med 2010;25:4-11.

Derek C. Chang, MD, Graham A.A. Dodd, MSc, MD, CCFP(EM), MADEM. Disaster preparedness in medical training needs to be a part of the new normal. BCMJ, Vol. 63, No. 8, October, 2021, Page(s) 345 - Council on Health Promotion.

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Scott Lang says: reply

I would like to ask the authors if they are aware of any pandemic preparedness plan that focuses on the nuances of influencing human behaviour? It seems to me that any pandemic preparedness plan that does not is incompetent at best and immoral at worst - a lesson learned painfully with Covid-19.

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