Terror May Become a Bigger Focus at Med School

Emergency personnel treat a victim of a mock nuclear explosion during a 2006 exercise in Honolulu. Rutgers New Jersey Medical School is considering a plan to increase its focus on terrorism threats.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
June 24, 2014, 10:57 a.m.

A team of pro­fess­ors near New York City wants to make ter­ror­ism a lar­ger fo­cus for med­ic­al-school stu­dents across the United States.

A plan now tak­ing shape would in­sert dis­cus­sions of ter­ror threats — such as a bio­chem­istry-course lec­ture on nerve agents — throughout the four-year cur­riculum at Rut­gers New Jer­sey Med­ic­al School, said Le­onard Cole, dir­ect­or of the school’s Ter­ror Medi­cine and Se­cur­ity Pro­gram.

If a crowd of people sud­denly be­gins “shak­ing and quiv­er­ing and froth­ing at the mouth … it would not be a smart thing for you to run and try to help,” he said, ref­er­en­cing the symp­toms shown by hun­dreds of people in last year’s sar­in-gas strikes in Syr­ia.

Cole said that kind of aware­ness is still largely ab­sent in U.S. med­ic­al schools, des­pite a call is­sued more than a dec­ade ago by an or­gan­iz­a­tion that helps to ac­cred­it them. Writ­ing for the As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al Col­leges in 2003, an ex­pert pan­el de­clared that deal­ing with chem­ic­al, bio­lo­gic­al, ra­di­olo­gic­al and nuc­le­ar at­tacks should be “an in­teg­ral com­pon­ent” of what med­ic­al schools teach.

The re­com­mend­a­tion is “still not yet broadly im­ple­men­ted,” Cole told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire in a June tele­phone in­ter­view. “We want to in­cul­cate in the cul­ture of our med­ic­al school and our med­ic­al cur­riculum the no­tion that this is just part of what you have to learn to be pre­pared for. The kids, as they gradu­ate, [now] really don’t have that sense.”

The pro­pos­al un­der con­sid­er­a­tion at Rut­gers would in­sert talk about un­con­ven­tion­al weapons and oth­er ter­ror­ism threats in­to nu­mer­ous med­ic­al-school classes, as well as its first-year ori­ent­a­tion. Stu­dents also would have an op­tion to take a fi­nal-year course fo­cus­ing on such dangers ex­clus­ively, Cole said.

“If we are suc­cess­ful, there’s no reas­on we couldn’t ex­pect oth­ers to be suc­cess­ful,” he said. Cole and oth­er school fac­ulty plan to ex­plore teach­ing re­com­mend­a­tions in a series of med­ic­al-journ­al art­icles now un­der pre­par­a­tion.

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