South African medical students’ perceptions and knowledge about antibiotic resistance and appropriate prescribing: Are we providing adequate training to future prescribers?

  • S Wasserman
  • S Potgieter
  • E Shoul
  • D Constant
  • A Stewart
  • M Mendelson
  • T.H. Boyles


Background. Education of medical students has been identified by the World Health Organization as an important aspect of antibiotic resistance (ABR) containment. Surveys from high-income countries consistently reveal that medical students recognise the importance of antibiotic prescribing knowledge, but feel inadequately prepared and require more education on how to make antibiotic choices. The attitudes and knowledge of South African (SA) medical students regarding ABR and antibiotic prescribing have never been evaluated.

Objective. To evaluate SA medical students’ perceptions, attitudes and knowledge about antibiotic use and resistance, and the perceived quality of education relating to antibiotics and infection.

Methods. This was a cross-sectional survey of final-year students at three medical schools, using a 26-item self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaires recorded basic demographic information, perceptions about antibiotic use and ABR, sources, quality, and usefulness of current education about antibiotic use, and questions to evaluate knowledge. Hard-copy surveys were administered during whole-class lectures.

Results. A total of 289 of 567 (51%) students completed the survey. Ninety-two percent agreed that antibiotics are overused and 87% agreed that resistance is a significant problem in SA – higher proportions than those who thought that antibiotic overuse (63%) and resistance (61%) are problems in the hospitals where they had worked (p<0.001). Most reported that they would appreciate more education on appropriate use of antibiotics (95%). Only 33% felt confident to prescribe antibiotics, with similar proportions across institutions. Overall, prescribing confidence was associated with the use of antibiotic prescribing guidelines (p=0.003), familiarity with antibiotic stewardship (p=0.012), and more frequent contact with infectious diseases specialists (p<0.001). There was an overall mean correct score of 50% on the knowledge questionnaire, with significant differences between institutions. Students who used antibiotic prescribing guidelines and found their education more useful scored higher on knowledge questionnaires.

Conclusion. There are low levels of confidence with regard to antibiotic prescribing among final-year medical students in SA, and most students would like more education in this area. Perceptions that ABR is less of a problem in their local setting may contribute to inappropriate prescribing behaviours. Differences exist between medical schools in knowledge about antibiotic use, with suboptimal scores across institutions. The introduction and use of antibiotic prescribing guidelines and greater contact with specialists in antibiotic prescribing may improve prescribing behaviours.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135