Medical student Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland

Last updated:

Online ethics toolkit launched for medical students

Medical students facing ethical dilemmas have a new online BMA resource to turn to.

The Ethics Toolkit for Students provides signposts to help students navigate around major issues in their careers that medicine alone cannot solve.

These include whether students should put interesting cases on Facebook, even where they don’t mention patients by name; how to manage concerns about senior colleagues, and the challenges that can arise during electives in resource-poor countries.

Fifteen ‘toolkit cards’ cover issues such as confidentiality, consent to treatment, working with senior colleagues, and whether medical students should always consider themselves ‘on duty’.

They are accompanied by a series of video clips featuring the BMA medical ethics department and three generations of BMA medical students committee chairs, who offer personal insights into how they would tackle tricky situations.

The toolkit highlights the increasing importance of social media, both for private networking and as a professional tool, and the issues that can arise from this.

Social media challenge

BMA deputy head of ethics Julian Sheather said: ‘One of the things we are keen to do is remind students of confidentiality and inadvertent disclosure of information — that the barriers between a medical student’s private life and their professional lives can be poorest around social media.’

In her video, former MSC co-chair Marion Matheson reveals she is conscious of the public nature of what she is saying on Twitter.

She adds: ‘On Facebook I think it’s really important to be very aware of how much information you disclose about your patients … We really have to be quite careful as students and future doctors to be aware of the boundary between the public and private life.’

But she goes on to stress the many ways in which social media can be used positively in professional practice, global health and medical politics and says Twitter and LinkedIn are particularly useful for networking.

She points out: ‘It’s great when you put out a tweet and all of a sudden you have these really esteemed doctors and scientists really interacting with you in the Twittersphere.’

Current co-chair Alice Rutter said: ‘Medical students are undergoing their training in an increasingly complex and pressurised world … the BMA’s ethical guide for students provides the key information in an accessible format for aspiring doctors on how they cope with the clinical, social and professional dilemmas they might face. It is an invaluable guide that I would urge all students to read.’