Student-patient relationships

A female medical student was speaking to a patient on the ward. As the student prepared to leave, the patient offered her his phone number, saying that he would very much like to see her again and perhaps take her for dinner. The student took the phone number, but felt uncomfortable and contacted the MDU for further guidance. 

MDU advice 

Medical students, like fully qualified doctors, should avoid any action which could be misconstrued as taking advantage of their position of trust and responsibility, or as exploiting vulnerable individuals. This can include pursuing personal relationships with patients. 

In Medical students: professional values and fitness to practise (2009), the GMC says that students "are expected to maintain a professional boundary between themselves and their patients or anyone close to the patient" (paragraph 25). 

Good medical practice (2013) takes this further: "You must not use your professional position to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a patient or someone close to them" (paragraph 53). 

Even if the attraction is mutual between a doctor and a patient, the GMC still expects the doctor to exercise appropriate self-restraint.

It is important for medical students, just as much as qualified doctors, to recognise that there are professional boundaries in their relationships with patients. The MDU adviser explained that while this was not an absolute prohibition to having dinner with the patient, it was up to the student to use her judgment in the light of this advice.

This guidance was correct at publication 12/12/2014. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

You may also be interested in

Student advice

The impact of social media

Billions of people use social media every day. Medical students need to be more guarded than most in what they post online. Careers may be at stake.

Read more
Student advice

A question of consent

A medical student was shadowing a junior doctor on a paediatric surgical ward. His duties included helping the junior doctor to clerk new admissions for elective surgery, and he also observed when the doctor obtained consent for surgery.

Read more
Student advice

Inappropriate prescribing

A recently qualified junior doctor was doing his final surgery in general practice before going on a skiing trip to America. He was keen to get home to pack following the late surgery session. A few days earlier he had slipped on ice and twisted his back. Paracetamol and ibuprofen weren't relieving the pain and he was concerned about being in discomfort on the flight and while skiing.

Read more