Healthcare Students’ Perception of Social Distancing During the 2019 Coronavirus Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey


  • Devon L Barrett Emory University School of Medicine
  • Katharine W Rainer Emory University School of Medicine
  • Chao Zhang Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
  • Travis W Blalock Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University



coronavirus, sars-cov-2, COVID-19, social distancing, public health, students, medical


Background: Since the implementation of social distancing practices during the global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic there have been a myriad of definitions for ‘social distancing.’ The objective of this study was to determine students’ awareness of the various definitions of social distancing, how strictly they adhered to social distancing guidelines, and how they perceived the importance of various social distancing practices. 

Methods: This cross-sectional survey was distributed via email to students at Emory-affiliated graduate schools, including the Medical, Nursing, and Public Health Schools.

Results: Of the 2,453 recipients of the survey, 415 students responded (16.9% response rate). The majority of respondents were medical students (n=225, 55.6%). Of the respondents, 357 noted that they “frequently” or “always” abided by social distancing. The most common definition of social distancing with which respondents were familiar was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s (n=276 of 369 responses, 74.8%). There were significant differences across groups  when grouping students by the definition of social distancing that they were aware of, the social distancing guideline they most closely followed, and their school of attendance regarding the importance of specific social distancing examples (p<0.05 for each).

Conclusions: A survey of healthcare students identified differences in the importance of social distancing practices based on the definition of social distancing that they were aware of. The results of this study underscore the importance of having unified definitions of public health messaging, which ultimately may impact disease spread.


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How to Cite

Barrett, D. L., Rainer, K. W., Zhang, C., & Blalock, T. W. (2021). Healthcare Students’ Perception of Social Distancing During the 2019 Coronavirus Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey. International Journal of Medical Students, 9(3), 192–196.



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