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.

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