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BMC Med Educ. 2018 Jun 1;18(1):121. doi: 10.1186/s12909-018-1237-8.

Abortion education in Canadian family medicine residency programs.

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Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.



Abortion has been decriminalized in Canada since 1988 and is considered an essential medical service. There is concern that decreasing numbers of abortion providers may impair access to abortion. This study examined the quantity of exposure and education that Canadian family medicine residents receive on abortion during training and their preparation to provide abortions. In addition, the study assessed residents' attitudes, intention and expressed competency to provide abortion in future practice and the association between medical training and changes in these factors.


The authors developed a 21-item survey in consultation with experts in medical education. The survey was distributed online in 2016. A total of 1517 family medicine residents in their first, second and third year of training attending 8 English language schools across Canada were invited to participate. Associations between attitudes, education, exposure and intention were assessed using relative risks based on bivariate analysis of self-reported measures and odds ratios from ordered logistic regression.


The response rate was 28.7% (436/1517). The majority of residents, 79%, reported never observing or assisting with an abortion during training. Similarly, 80% of residents reported receiving less than 1 hour of formal education on abortion. Residents strongly supported receiving abortion education. Self reported exposure to a single abortion during training was associated with an increase in residents' intention (RR = 1.95, 95% CI 1.54-2.47) and self-rated competency to provide a medical abortion (RR = 2.16, 95% CI 1.60-2.93). Twenty five percent of residents were unaware of ethical and legal requirements towards abortion provision and referral.


Canadian family medicine residents receive little education or exposure to abortion during training most do not feel competent to provide abortion services. Residents expressed strong support for receiving abortion training. The Canadian College of Family Physicians curriculum does not currently include abortion as a training objective. The authors argue there is a need for family medicine training programs to increase education and exposure to abortion during residency, while respecting residents' rights to opt out of such training. Failure to do so may impair future access to abortion provision.


Abortion training; Family medicine residency; Medical abortion; Medical education; Theory of planned behaviour

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