Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews From the Frontline

Bad medicine: digital rectal examination

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 01 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3421
  1. Des Spence, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. destwo{at}

Rectal examination was a “must do” examination during my medical education, but in the real world of clinical practice I have always wondered why. For many years I taught medical students rectal examination using plastic dummies. I explained that largely it was a useless examination, but this met with hostility: “They wouldn’t teach us this if it was pointless, Dr Spence!” It was futile to challenge the orthodoxy, so I approached the clinical exams like a drama teacher might approach an end of term school musical. The clinical examiners always said it was “great,” but we all …

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