Background: The appropriate use of antimicrobials has implications on individual patient care, drug resistance and worldwide public health. Learning to prescribe antimicrobials is therefore an important part of medical education. The aim of this study was to evaluate novice prescribers’ readiness to use antimicrobials, in order to design valid educational activities.

Methods: A mixed methods study was carried out amongst final year students at Queen’s University Belfast and foundation year 1 (FY1) doctors working in a Northern Ireland hospital. Data was initially collected using a survey, comprised of quantitative and qualitative elements. This was supplemented by semi-structured interviews.

Results: One hundred and fifty-eight students and eighteen doctors participated in the survey. Two students and two doctors were interviewed. Both groups appeared to feel only moderately prepared to prescribe antimicrobials. Agreement with survey statements relating to knowledge and confidence was 61% and 73% for students and FY1 doctors respectively. More focused contextual teaching and practical learning opportunities were felt to be required. Students perceived a long time gap between teaching and clinical exposure. Both groups conveyed the strong influence of the working environment and local prescribing culture. These were sometimes seen as barriers to optimal prescribing. Feedback on prescribing was felt to be useful but lacking.

Conclusion: This study suggests that medical students and foundation doctors do not feel adequately prepared to prescribe antimicrobials, which may lead them to be overly influenced by suboptimal prescribing cultures. A number of curriculum development and quality improvement initiatives are suggested as a result.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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