AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. January 2000, Volume 2, Number 1.

Cases in Law and Ethics

  • Print

Performing Physical Exams on Fellow Students

A case that explores whether it is coercive and inappropriate for an attending physician to request that a female medical student volunteer so that other students can practice performing pelvic examinations.

Both ethics and law address norms that govern physicians' behavior. Many view the law as a baseline for articulating the limits placed on individuals living within society as well as an enabling device to facilitate social relationships. Encompassing as the law may be in some areas of human conduct, in many others it is silent. In the absence of legal norms or prohibitions, physicians often find guidance in the standards arrived at through ethical reasoning.

To guide students through the process of ethical reasoning and to acquaint them with case law, a new case study will appear every 2 to 4 weeks. Students will be given legal and/or ethical opinions to assist their decision-making.

January Case Scenario

Mary, a third-year medical student is currently doing an OB/GYN rotation. Her school has often used standardized patients to help medical students become proficient with various examinations. One day, no standardized patient is available. The attending physician suggests that one of the female medical students volunteer so that students can practice pelvic examinations. Mary feels that this is an inappropriate role for a female medical student. She feels that such a request is coercive, considering that their clerkship grade depends on such educational exercises.

  1. What should Mary do?
  2. How does informed consent apply in these educational circumstances?
See what the AMA Code of Medical Ethics says about this topic in Opinion 3.09 Medical Students performing procedures on fellow students. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics 2008-2009 Edition. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2008:132.
The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.