Self-medication is a very widespread practice among students, and particularly those in medical fields. Several studies have addressed the way doctors and medical students engage in this practice. The most recent, published by Indian researchers, shows that the way they self-medicate evolves along with the increase in their knowledge.
This article is a translation of “Pratique de l’automédication chez les étudiants en médecine” by Timothée Froelich.
Self-medication consists of using unprescribed drugs to treat medical ailments. It follows a self-diagnosis carried out according to one’s personal impressions, and from information found on the internet or from a pharmacist. It is a universal practice whose dangers are sometimes underestimated due to poor understanding of the molecules, possible interactions between several drugs or an incorrect diagnosis. Self-medication is widely used by medical students, in particular. A recent study shows how this practice evolves as they progress through their studies.
Self-medication is particularly widespread among doctors
Several studies have already shown that doctors often resort to self-medication. In the state of Karnataka (India), 53% acknowledge that they use antibiotics at their sole discretion.
Furthermore, self-medication is already highly used by medical students who have easy access to pharmaceuticals, as well as information through their textbooks or the advice of more senior students . Varsha J. Patel et al. wanted to find out more about it and addressed the evolution of this practice according to the students’ level of knowledge. Questionnaires were distributed to the students of the Smt. NHL Municipal Medical College of Ahmadabad between March and May 2010. The answers were analyzed according to the study year of the participants (first year, second year, first and second part of the third year, and residency). The results were published in the International Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology (available on MyScienceWork).
Self-medication evolves along with knowledge
The scientists observed that 82% of students surveyed were engaged in self-medication practices over the last twelve months. This particularly high level is mainly due to the availability of various types of drugs, narcotics included. Other reasons given included time and money saved, greater ease, and quick relief, thanks to this practice, which, most of the time, concerns minor ailments (headaches, fever, cough, etc.).
This study reveals that the use of alternative medicine (herbs, ayurvedic medicine) is reported especially by students in their first year who are probably maintaining their own, previous practices. However, the more they learn, the more they trust modern medicine and the less they use alternative options.
It is also significant that, depending on the year of study, more serious symptoms are treated, like infections. In the end, the students rely more and more on their textbooks and objective sources of information as their knowledge of drugs increases.
Self-medication: a subject that worries the French medical community
In France, a study on the use of generic drugs highlighted widespread self-medication practices, especially in medical fields, where more than half of students admit turning to such methods. During their first years of study at medical school, students are taught about pathologies, physiology, but not about therapy. They are not very well prepared to engage in good self-medication practices.
These practices should not be forbidden, but used wisely. Some fundamental rules must be respected, for instance: reading the instructions and recommended doses, not mixing several drugs at the same time and avoiding the use of this kind of treatment over an extended period.