Medical students' experiences of professional lapses and patient rights abuses in a South African health sciences faculty.Acad Med. 2011 Oct; 86(10):1282-7.AM
To elicit South African medical students' experiences of witnessing patient rights abuses and professional lapses during their clinical training in order to inform an appropriate and effective response.
During June and July 2009 at the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences, the authors surveyed 223 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-year medical students in selected clinical rotations concerning abuses they had observed. Volunteers were later interviewed individually. The authors coded interview transcripts for key themes using a constant-comparative grounded theory approach.
Of 223 students surveyed, 183 (82%) responded, 130 (71%) of whom reported witnessing patient rights abuses and professional lapses, including physical abuse (38%), verbal abuse (37%), disrespect for patients' dignity (25%), and inadequately informing patients about their treatment (25%). Students attributed abuse to stressed health workers, overburdened facilities, and disempowered patients. Most students who witnessed abuse (59%) did not actively respond, and 64% of survey respondents felt unprepared or uncertain about challenging abuses in the future. Interviews with 28 students yielded detailed accounts of the abuses witnessed and of students' emotional reactions, coping strategies, and responses. Most students did not report abuses; they feared reprisal or doubted it would make a difference.
This study demonstrates the disjunction between what these students were taught about human rights and ethics and what they witnessed in clinical settings. The high prevalence of patient rights abuses experienced by these students highlights the need to align medical ethics and human rights with medico-legal protocols in theory and clinical practice.