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Med Educ. 2001 Jul;35(7):681-6.

Should medical students act as surrogate patients for each other?

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  • 1Department of Public Health, University of Adelaide, South Australia.


Until recently, most clinical teachers and medical students have regarded using medical students as surrogate patients for peer teaching of physical examinations and clinical skills as practical and uncontroversial. Recent changes to medical curricula and changes in hospitalized patient populations have led to questions about the ethical acceptability of this practice. This paper explores the ethical issues inherent in the use of medical students as surrogate patients. It suggests that, ethically, there are parallels with two situations: when students conduct physical examinations on patients and when students participate as subjects in research. Drawing on accepted ethical practice in these two germane areas, the paper argues that there are both ethical strengths and weaknesses in the practice of using students as surrogate patients. Strategies to promote free and informed involvement of students as surrogate patients are suggested.

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