U.S. medical profession unprepared for nuclear attack, says study

December 7, 2017 by Lauren Baggett, University of Georgia

Escalating tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea's nuclear program have fueled concerns about the possibility of nuclear warfare, and a study from the University of Georgia has found that American medical professionals are woefully unprepared to handle the needs of patients after a nuclear attack.

The researchers analyzed survey responses from over 400 emergency medical personnel in the U.S. and Asia to find out if medical professionals would show up to the site of a and, if they did, whether or not they know the appropriate treatment protocols. They published their findings recently in Frontiers in Public Health.

"I was not surprised that the responses from the emergency medical community were relatively poor in terms of knowledge and attitudes, because that's what you get with radiation-myths versus reality," said the study's lead author, Cham E. Dallas, a professor of health policy and management and director of the Institute for Disaster Management at UGA's College of Public Health.

Over half of the respondents hadn't received any formal education on issues related to radiation, and many thought that the immediate medical need after a Hiroshima-sized nuclear detonation would be thermal burns when, in fact, patients are more likely to need treatment for lacerations.

When asked to rank what type of disaster event would make them unwilling to come to work, respondents chose nuclear bomb.

"What we found was that medical personnel were actually more afraid of radiation than they were of biological or chemical events," said Dallas.

Ironically, responding to radiological or nuclear events has historically presented no risk to providers.

This study suggests that emergency medical personnel, despite access to nuclear disaster training, view nuclear events with the same fear and misunderstanding as the general public. Dallas believes this may be because nuclear events are rare, and most providers have no firsthand experience. They fear what they don't know.

"The interesting thing is these are tough characters. These are people who see trauma and death all the time," said Dallas. "They're tough, but not with radiation."

Dallas also points to Hollywood's treatment of nuclear events. Most of what people see on television or in movies, he says, is incorrect and reinforces a view that little can be done in the face of a nuclear event. That's the key assumption Dallas wants to correct.

"As terrible as it might be," he said, "it's far more manageable than emergency professionals realize."

Yet, Dallas is concerned that deep-seated fears may override any disaster training medical personnel might receive. "Even when medical personnel get a minimum amount of training, I'm not certain we're breaking these patterns," he said.

Experts agree that a radiological or nuclear event is inevitable, so care professionals can't afford to be unprepared, said Dallas, and he urges medical community leaders to offer more radiation and nuclear disaster training addressing the myths related to these events before the threat of attack becomes a reality.

"We're about to turn the corner on this into a far more likely landscape of nuclear events, and we are not ready," said Dallas. "It's a problem."

Explore further: What's next for nuclear medicine training?

More information: Cham E. Dallas et al. Readiness for Radiological and Nuclear Events among Emergency Medical Personnel, Frontiers in Public Health (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00202

Related Stories

What's next for nuclear medicine training?

October 4, 2017
RESTON, Va. The "Hot Topic" article in the October issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine (JNM), titled Nuclear Medicine Training: What Now?, examines the role of nuclear medicine in the era of precision medicine and the ...

Oversight chair questions safety at nuke dump

March 25, 2014
The head of a federal nuclear safety oversight board calls the recent truck fire and radiation release from the government's troubled nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico "near misses." And he says operations and ...

New findings on combined radiation injury from nuclear disaster

October 1, 2013
A nuclear bomb or nuclear reactor accident can produce a deadly combination of radiation exposure and injuries such as burns and trauma.

Recommended for you

India launches 'Modicare', world's biggest health scheme

September 23, 2018
India on Sunday launched the world's biggest health insurance scheme which Prime Minister Narendra Modi said would cover some 500 million poor people.

It's not just for kids—even adults appear to benefit from a regular bedtime

September 21, 2018
Sufficient sleep has been proven to help keep the body healthy and the mind sharp. But it's not just an issue of logging at least seven hours of Z's.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.