I did a small research project looking at the sun protection and behaviours of doctors in hospitals and just looking at what their skin type is, what their behaviour is in the sun, whether they like to tan in the sun, if they use sunscreen, do they get sunburnt and have they ever used sunbeds.
How many doctors did you look at in your study?
I looked at 163 doctors in total, they were mainly based in the West Midlands but obviously they also came from the rest of the UK to regional meetings and educational events as well.
What did you find?
What we found was that the doctors that participated in the survey were similar to the general public so they also suffer from sunburns. A lot of the doctors do use sunscreen, over 70% of the doctors use sunscreen and the one that they use the most is factor 30, which is good. But unfortunately some of them do get sunburnt, so more than 2 in a year. It looks like female doctors seem to have more sun protective behaviours although they also get more burnt, so that’s an interesting average which probably needs further exploring. It was worrying that it shows that about one in ten doctors in this survey seem to have used sunbeds in the past or have used sunbeds at the moment. So that’s the worrying bit because obviously there’s risk associated with skin cancer.
We set out with a small study to look into the behaviour but we were quite surprised of what we have found and it’s not just at the junior doctor level, we have also found at the more senior levels.
Do you think the influence of doctors’ behaviour upon the general public is significant?
Artificial sun tanning using a sunbed has been shown to increase the skin cancer risk, either non-melanoma or melanoma skin cancer. This has been well known for the last four or five years. The fact that the doctors, especially the secondary care doctors, they are the front line of the medical treatment for the patients, giving advice, giving the treatment to the patients, exhibit a similar behaviour to the public is rather worrying because obviously the behaviour and understanding about the nature of the photocarcinogenesis doesn’t seem to correlate in that direction.
What do you think needs to happen?
I think the multiple layer approach that probably comes out from this survey in terms of how we address these issues in the future, whether we need to engage the medical profession a lot more in our primary prevention programme, not just aim at the public but also aim at the secondary care and also more senior doctors in terms of the seriousness of the artificial light tanning risks associated with skin cancer because we are all not immune, not just because we are the front line but we are also patients at some point in our life if we are not careful.
Do you think that doctors don’t know the risks or just don’t care?
It’s very interesting about this question because I suddenly remembered when I was a medical student dermatology teaching is minimal, mainly because we are not the most exciting specialty. Also the amount of teaching we got from actual dermatologists was quite minimum. Certainly in the UK it varies from one medical school to the other. So certainly in terms of the emphasis at the level of medical students, starting from the educational level, teaching would need to be addressed. Certainly when we look at the level of knowledge in terms of the photocarcinogenesis they probably would need to get more information. So, in terms of public health educational programmes, we also need to have collateral, not just at the public level, but also at the medical school level. I think that hopefully will change in the future with further emphasis.
Has there been research on how many doctors smoke?
We actually haven’t had a chance to look into this but I’m sure this has been looked at in terms of smoking behaviour associated with the lung cancer risk. But as we are all aware, knowledge and behaviour, they are not correlated.