Analysis Ethical Debate

Students whose behaviour causes concern: Ethical perspective

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 29 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2882
  1. Deborah Bowman, senior lecturer in medical ethics and law
  1. 1Centre for Medical and Healthcare Education, St George’s, University of London, London SW17 0RE
  1. dbowman{at}

    What should you do when you see a fellow student behaving inappropriately? After a group of students wrote to the BMJ about their experience during an elective (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2874), we sought the opinions of an ethicist, a dean (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2884), a GMC representative (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2876), and a lecturer from an African university (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2875)

    This account captures well the contrast between defining standards of behaviour and navigating effective implementation of those standards. Four issues arise. Firstly, even when standards are defined, application of those standards is a moral enterprise that can be confusing and frustrating. Secondly, cultural relativism may be seductive when working overseas. Thirdly, students have to discharge significant responsibilities in a system where power imbalance and complex role delineation prevail. Finally, the question of who owns a problem is a bar to effective resolution.

    Were the authors correct to identify this …

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