Patient consent has been formulated in terms of radical individualism rather than shared benefits. Medical education relies on the provision of patient consent to provide medical students with the training and experience to become competent doctors. Pelvic examination represents an extreme case in which patients may legitimately seek to avoid contact with inexperienced medical students particularly where these are male. However, using this extreme case, this paper will examine practices of framing and obtaining consent as perceived by medical students. This paper reports findings of an exploratory qualitative study of medical students and junior doctors. Participants described a number of barriers to obtaining informed consent. These related to misunderstandings concerning student roles and experiences and insufficient information on the nature of the examination. Participants reported perceptions of the negative framing of decisions on consent by nursing staff where the student was male. Potentially coercive practices of framing of the decision by senior doctors were also reported. Participants outlined strategies they adopted to circumvent patients’ reasons for refusal. Practices of framing the information used by students, nurses and senior doctors to enable patients to decide about consent are discussed in the context of good ethical practice. In the absence of a clear ethical model, coercion appears likely. We argue for an expanded model of autonomy in which the potential tension between respecting patients’ autonomy and ensuring the societal benefit of well-trained doctors is recognised. Practical recommendations are made concerning information provision and clear delineations of student and patient roles and expectations.
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