Medical students lack medico-legal confidence

MEDICAL students are not confident when it comes to applying the law in medicine, according to new research.

The survey published in the Journal of Medical Ethics found students were particularly unsure about challenging their hospital’s or another organisation’s interpretation of the relevant legal rules in a case and about using their legal powers against the wishes of patients.

Researchers interviewed more than 1,000 first, second and final year students at two UK medical schools and in only one area – working in partnership with patients – did more than a third of students feel reasonably or fully confident.

Students were more confident about understanding core pieces of law, including those relating to mental health, consent and confidentiality. But they were less comfortable when it came to interpreting areas such as the Coroners Act and in working in courtroom settings.

The study’s authors said: “If young doctors do not feel confident [in their medico-legal skills], they are unlikely to challenge poor practice or show leadership in promoting better patient care through using legal rules and an understanding of how law relates to and underpins good medical practice.”