More than just bruises

A medical student's perspective on identifying intimate partner violence. Third year MD student, Asiel Adan Sanchez responds to recent research that examines the teaching of intimate partner violence at medical schools in Australia.

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A paper published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in July this year by University of Melbourne academics, found vast inconsistencies between medical training on intimate partner violence across medical schools. 

Medical schools varied from 14 hours training to none at all, with a variety of teaching modalities and frameworks. Students are seldom taught how to apply these skills, navigate these spaces and recognise the risk factors, to our future patient's detriment.  

As a medical student, this is not entirely surprising. The medical curriculum – regardless of where we're taught – is already dense with the technical and rote knowledge required to become a competent doctor. Social issues like intimate partner violence often lose out. One of the curriculum developers in the study even deemed it "not essential".

In this kind of landscape, one option is for students to create our own learning opportunities. In my experience, the lectures we were given on the topic were a good introduction, but did not adequately cover the real clinical experience. This had to be sought out from my supervising GP, who spent an afternoon explaining his approach to the topic and his clinical perspective. The patient's perspective, however, was still lacking. 

It is no surprise, then that intimate partner violence symptoms can be missed by doctors. Perhaps not necessarily out of ignorance, but rather by failing to create safe spaces for victims to disclose their experiences. The healing of a victim of intimate partner violence, however, doesn't stop at treating physical injuries, and this, unfortunately, is where medical training falters.

This is why innovative approaches like the MD Student Conference are critical for a well-rounded education. The conference allows us to hear speakers in a variety of topics that are only covered fleetingly in the wider medical curriculum and family violence has been regularly taught in this forum. 

This year's conference was heavily focused on social inequity and family violence.  We heard from social commentators and advocates alongside giants of medical research. We had the huge privilege of listening to Australian of the Year Rosie Batty who presented to the entire MD cohort of a thousand students at various stages of their studies.

Rosie Batty provided the unique opportunity to hear a firsthand account of intimate partner violence. Her insight into how doctors can make a difference and her acknowledgement of their limitations was one of the most valuable insights I came across. 

With a topic as widespread and under-recognised as family violence, medical education should not rely in such a haphazard way of training. 

I was lucky enough to have the opportunities to learn more about intimate partner violence from the best people: from the medical school on facts and figures; from my GP on how to create a safe space for patients; and from Rosie Batty on the impact in patient's lived experience. 

If medical education is to respond to this issue adequately, all medical students would be given these opportunities.

By Asiel Adan Sanchez

Asiel is a third year medical student at The University of Melbourne. He was an academic day convenor for The MD Student Conference, President of MDQueer LGBTIQ Health Collective and LGBTIQ Health Officer for the Australian Medical Students' Association. 

The paper referred to in this reflective piece was "Are Future Doctors Taught to Respond to Intimate Partner Violence? A Study of Australian Medical Schools" published in the July edition of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 

The authors of the paper were University of Melbourne researchers Jodie Valpied, Karina Aprico, Janita Clewett, and Kelsey Hegarty.