J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/jme.2010.041566
  • Law, ethics and medicine

Readiness for legally literate medical practice? Student perceptions of their undergraduate medico-legal education

Press Release
  1. Sue Smith4
  1. 1Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire, Luton, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Unitec New Zealand, Auckland, New Zealand
  3. 3Vertical Theme Head Ethics, Professionalism, Leadership and Management, Imperial College, London, UK
  4. 4National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Michael Preston-Shoot, Dean, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire, Park Square, Luton LU1 3JU, England, UK; michael.preston-shoot{at}
  1. Contributors The authors participated in the design and completion of the study and writing of the paper.

  • Received 1 December 2010
  • Revised 27 January 2011
  • Accepted 10 March 2011
  • Published Online First 16 May 2011


Medical councils increasingly require graduates to understand law and to practise medicine mindful of the legal rules. In the UK a revised curriculum for medical law and ethics has been published. However, coverage of law in medical education remains variable and doubts exist about how far students acquire legal knowledge and skills in its implementation. This survey of students in two UK medical schools measured their law learning and their confidence in using this knowledge. Concept maps and a self-audit questionnaire were used to capture students' understanding and perceptions of this knowledge domain and self-assessments of their legal knowledge and skills. A large sample was achieved across first, second and final year students. Students agree that a sound understanding of law is essential to being a good doctor. Their perceptions of law are generally positive but the interface between the legal rules and codes of medical ethics creates difficulty. In some areas students offer relatively confident self-assessments of their legal knowledge and skills for practising law. However, levels of confidence in other areas of their law learning raise doubts about the degree to which they can advocate for and protect their patients. Conclusions are drawn about the effectiveness of students' law learning and recommendations made for further research.


  • Funding The study was part funded by a National Teaching Fellowship awarded to the first author by the Higher Education Academy.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the University of Bedfordshire Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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