Terror May Become a Bigger Focus at Med School

NYPD conducts 'dirty bomb' drill on the Third Avenue bridge in 2011. NYPD conducts 'dirty bomb' drill on the Third Avenue bridge in 2011. Bebeto Matthews/AP file photo

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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