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Systematic review of medical student willingness to volunteer and preparedness for pandemics and disasters
  1. Matthew Henry Vincent Byrne1,
  2. James Ashcroft2,
  3. Laith Alexander3,
  4. Jonathan C M Wan3,
  5. Anna Harvey4
  1. 1 Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2 Department of Surgery, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3 Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, UK
  4. 4 King’s College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Matthew Henry Vincent Byrne, Department of Urology, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK; mhvbyrne{at}


Objective This systematic review aimed to estimate the willingness of students to volunteer during a disaster, and how well-prepared medical students are for volunteering by assessing their knowledge and medical school curriculum of disaster and pandemic medicine.

Results A total of 37 studies met inclusion criteria including 11 168 medical students and 91 medical schools. 24 studies evaluated knowledge (64.9%), 16 evaluated volunteering (43.2%) and 5 evaluated medical school curricula (13.5%). Weighted mean willingness to volunteer during a disaster was 68.4% (SD=21.7%, range=26.7%–87.8%, n=2911), and there was a significant difference between those planning to volunteer and those who actually volunteered (p<0.0001). We identified a number of modifiable barriers which may contribute to this heterogeneity. Overall, knowledge of disasters was poor with a weighted mean of 48.9% (SD=15.1%, range=37.1%–87.0%, n=2985). 36.8% of 76 medical schools curricula included teaching on disasters. However, students only received minimal teaching (2–6 hours).

Conclusions This study demonstrates that there is a large number of students who are willing to volunteer during pandemics. However, they are unlikely to be prepared for these roles as overall knowledge is poor, and this is likely due to minimal teaching on disasters at medical school. During the current COVID-19 pandemic and in future disasters, medical students may be required to volunteer as auxiliary staff. There is a need to develop infrastructure to facilitate this process as well as providing education and training to ensure students are adequately prepared to perform these roles safely.

  • care systems
  • COVID-19
  • disaster planning and response
  • education
  • staff support

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  • MHVB and JA are joint first authors.

  • Handling editor Kirsty Challen

  • Twitter @mhvbyrne

  • MHVB and JA contributed equally.

  • Contributors MHVB and JA were responsible for conceptualisation. MHVB, JA, LA, JCMW and AH were responsible for writing the first draft. MHVB, LA, JCMW and AH were responsible for data collection. MHVB and JA were responsible for data analysis. MHVB and JA were responsible for interpretation of data. All authors were responsible for revisions.

  • 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.

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

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.