Lapses in professionalism by those tasked with teaching healthcare students are contributing to a decline in levels of patient care, a study has found.
An eight-year programme of research by Cardiff University and the University of Dundee gathered more than 2,000 accounts of lapses in professional standards from students in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Australia.
It found that many students found themselves witnessing or participating in practices which fell short of the ethics and professionalism they were taught in their formal training.
Medical, dental, nursing, physiotherapy and pharmacy students reported incidents such as poor hygiene practices, talking to or about patients inappropriately, confidentiality breaches, students practising on patients without valid consent and going beyond the limits of their own competence.
Dr Lynn Monrouxe, co-author of the research and director of medical education research at Cardiff University, said: “Our research has highlighted that some senior healthcare practitioners across the UK fail to ensure proper patient care and dignity in the presence of students.
“Healthcare students are explicitly taught what comprises professional values and behaviours, but a large part of learning to become a healthcare professional occurs within the NHS as students observe their seniors - who act as powerful role models - interacting with patients.
“Many healthcare students, at some stage in their workplace learning, will find themselves witnessing or participating in a practice which falls short of the ethics and professionalism they’ve imbued in their own formal training.”
Study co-author Professor Charlotte Rees, of the University of Dundee, said: “Students’ narratives tell us that these lapses in professionalism by some senior healthcare professionals are sometimes reproduced by students themselves, contributing to a decline in patient care and dignity - and to the potential perpetuation of harsh practical training methods with the next generation of healthcare workers.”
Medical schools across the UK are beginning to change ethical guidelines around students’ interactions with patients following the study.
Newcastle School of Medicine has decided to review its own policies and procedures, based on the study’s recommendations.
Roger Barton, professor of clinical medicine and director of medical studies at Newcastle University, said: “The lessons from Lynn Monrouxe and Charlotte Rees’ research will be at the foundation of teaching and students will have regular opportunities to share and discuss the dilemmas they have come across.
“This will support students to re-commit to the professionalism values taught during formal learning.”
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