Dental students risk sharps injuries

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Dental students are not exempt from risk of sharps injuries

A new study has recommended improved safety protocols for medical students regarding sharps injuries in training settings. (Image: FS Stock/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Tue. 26 March 2024

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PLYMOUTH, UK: The ramifications of sharps injuries within a clinical treatment setting extend beyond the immediate physical harm, potentially inducing anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder among the affected individuals. A recent study within a UK university context explored the occurrence and aftermath of sharps injuries among preregistration healthcare students and determined that trauma from sharps injuries merits further exploration, particularly because of under-reporting and the need for improved education.

The study targeted a previously under-explored area, the extent to which students of medical disciplines were affected by sharps injuries, the reporting rate of those injuries and reasons for not reporting. An online survey was sent to 3,372 healthcare students across various disciplines at a UK university and had a response rate of 21.47%.

The researchers noted a 13% incidence rate of sharps injuries among the respondents, predominantly occurring in the morning and involving devices like glass ampoules and various types of needles. Dental burs were also a source of injury for dental students. A significant insight was that injuries were not just confined to the expected fields of nursing, medicine and dentistry, but also extended to podiatry, midwifery, paramedicine and even occupational therapy students. The primary causes attributed to these injuries were the equipment used, carelessness and inexperience, pointing towards a need for better education and training in safe handling and prevention of such injuries.

The study also illuminated the locations where these injuries were most likely to occur, treatment rooms, patients’ bedsides and clinics being the predominant sites. Surprisingly, a notable portion of these incidents took place in educational simulation environments, suggesting the necessity for stringent safety protocols even within controlled learning settings.

The non-reporting of such incidents was another area of concern, over half of the injuries going unreported, primarily owing to perceptions of the injuries being minor or involving clean equipment. This under-reporting underscores the need for improved awareness and systems that encourage reporting and provide necessary post-injury support, including psychological counselling.

Perhaps most concerning was the revelation that some students exhibited signs consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder after having sustained a sharps injury, a fact that accentuates the profound emotional and psychological impact these incidents can have. This calls for a more holistic approach to training and support, one that addresses not only the physical risks associated with sharps injuries but also their potential to inflict long-lasting psychological trauma.

The study not only broadens our understanding of the prevalence and variety of sharps injuries among healthcare students, but also highlights the critical gaps in education, reporting mechanisms and psychological support. It lays a foundation for future research and policy development, aiming at safeguarding the future of dental healthcare professionals from the physical and psychological scars that these preventable injuries can inflict.

The study, titled “An exploration of sharps injuries within healthcare students at a UK university”, was published online on 14 March 2024 in Journal of Infection Prevention, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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