Intended for healthcare professionals


Closing the gap between professional teaching and practice

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 24 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:685

A policy can help protect students from being asked to behave unethically

  1. Len Doyal (, professor of medical ethics
  1. Department of Human Science and Medical Ethics, St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London E1 2AD

    Papers p 709 Personal view p 743

    Learning to be a doctor can be uniquely rewarding. Unlike other undergraduate study, clinical medicine has a practical edge such that students can directly experience the relevance of their academic work through their educational contact with patients. They also have the privilege of experiencing the range of human intellect, emotion, achievement, and failure embodied in the patients from whom they will learn. Finally, their positive interactions with patients reinforce the altruism that brought many of them into medicine. At its best, medical education can make students feel good about themselves and what they are learning, as well as preparing them for good professional practice. But if a gap exists between their clinical teaching and what they know and feel to be morally right the effects can be disastrous.1

    Policy on the rights of patients in medical education

    For educational activities not part of clinical care:

    • Patients must understand that medical students are not qualified doctors (and not “young doctors,” “my colleagues,” or “assistants”).

    • Clinical teachers and students must obtain explicit verbal consent from patients before students take their case histories or physically examine them, making sure they understand the primarily educational purpose of their participation.

    • Clinical teachers and students should never perform physical examinations or present cases that are potentially embarrassing for primarily educational purposes without the patient's verbal consent—including for the number …

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