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WMJ. 2001;100(1):24-8, 36.

Domestic violence: level of training, knowledge base and practice among Milwaukee physicians.



Domestic violence is a prevalent problem with significant health consequences. Early recognition and appropriate intervention with referral to local domestic violence agencies can be life-saving. Little is known, however, about the current level of training, knowledge base and attitudes of physicians in this area.


A survey was sent to 1300 physicians practicing in Milwaukee County in the following specialties: Family Practice, Internal Medicine, OB/GYN, Psychiatry. Demographic information was obtained. Questions were designed to explore attitudes towards domestic violence, frequency of encounters with victims or abusers, and knowledge of resources and appropriate intervention.


Of the 192 respondents, 74% reported having some training in domestic violence. Thirty percent reported seeing victims in their practice on a daily or weekly basis. Seventy percent feel able to identify a victim of domestic violence. Less than a third of respondents screened at least half of the patients they see for the possibility of abuse. Less than half always refer victims to a hotline or shelter, and less than a quarter of the respondents discuss safety plans with victims. A potentially dangerous response is telling a victim not to go back to an abuser without providing referrals and safety supports. In spite of this, almost a quarter of respondents always tell a victim to not go back to the abuser. Family practitioners and psychiatrists were more likely to discuss abuse with patients than were internists.


Significant numbers of physicians, in Milwaukee County, practicing certain specialties that potentially have a high rate of contact with domestic violence victims have had insufficient training in domestic violence assessment and intervention. Physicians should be familiar with the domestic violence hotlines and shelters in their communities and need to incorporate screen questions for domestic violence into their regular practice.

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