22% of Doctors Reject Evolution: Why HCW Need Better Info About Vaccines

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3 mins read

During our morning walk, I mentioned to my wife that New York state is mandating that health care workers get vaccinated. Unless they have a valid medical or religious exemption, refusing to comply will not only lead to termination from their jobs, but they will also be ineligible for unemployment. Because medicine is science-based, my wife found it hard to believe that health workers, particularly nurses, would not want to be vaccinated.

One reason for this is that many health care education programs focus on obtaining technical skills over learning medicine’s scientific foundations. For example, a 2007 survey of physicians found that 22% don’t believe in evolution. I’ll bet if you asked that same survey group if they believe that viruses mutate to create new strains, almost all would say yes. Do they realize that viruses mutating into new strains is an example of evolution?

One article I read noted that most physicians are closer to engineers than scientists. “They take science that’s already known and they apply it to a problem, … making patients better. Routine medical care doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking about underlying biology or evolution.” The article went on to point out that while a surgeon, for example, doesn’t need to understand evolution, a doctor in infectious disease, “where evolution of antibiotic resistance is a very important consideration” really needs to accept the concept. 

If 22% of doctors reject the scientific foundation of evolution, it’s easy to see why so many health care workers, especially nurses, don’t understand the underlying rationale for vaccines. Without adequate science education, many health care workers are no less susceptible to false statements about the COVID-19 vaccines than the rest of the population.

I have master’s degrees in two different fields and in both graduate programs I took courses in statistics. The problem was that while I learned how to work with stats, the courses provided a limited overview of the scientific method; I learned to work with the numbers but didn’t always understand where they came from. It was only during my doctoral studies that I developed an understanding of research methods.

I’d like to believe that health care workers would be less reluctant to get vaccinated if provided with a grounding in the science behind viruses and the development of vaccines. While those providing care are trained professionally to help people, they also need to be steeped in scientific methodology. As a retired health educator, I believe that we’re not doing our job if we don’t help health care workers become more informed in doing their jobs.

Photo by Albina Gavrilovic on Shutterstock


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David Colton, Ph.D., is a retired health care administrator and adjunct professor of health care administration at Mary Baldwin University, Staunton, VA. Research interests, publications, and conference presentations have focused on quality improvement and cultural change in behavioral health care organizations. He is the author of The Case for Universal Health Care (Clarity Press, 2019) and maintains a blog on the subject at www.universalhealthcarenow.com.

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