Med students say superiors not concerned with consent

A new report suggests that medical students are sometimes encouraged to breach informed consent guidelines by their supervisors.

The New Zealand Medical Association surveyed 93 final-year students at the University of Auckland, just over a third of the final-year.

The peer-reviewed study indicates the respondents were representative of the entire student population, matching age and gender distribution.

Most students admitted that they were not always compliant with consent guidelines.

The study focused particularly on sensitive procedures like breast, rectal, or genital examinations. Across all of those procedures, except for one, the majority of respondents admitted to noncompliance.

The sole exception was in the case of non-birth related pelvic examinations, which 85 percent of respondents said they always performed with proper informed consent.

During breast exams, on the other hand, only 17 percent said they always sought consent.

Students noted that their clinical decisions were strongly influenced by their supervisors. Some said they were pressured to forgo informed consent, with one student noting that they were coerced into performing an unconsented rectal exam on an unconscious patient.

Students described some supervisors as indifferent and unsupportive of the consent process. "I explained the University policy, but he wasn't concerned," wrote one student.

The report also points towards power imbalances, with respondents noting that they felt unable to challenge their seniors.

"I often felt unable or unwilling to question seniors even though I was aware the consent process was not followed," wrote another.

The NZMA has suggested a review of the survey's findings to provide a safer environment for students and their patients.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter