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J Educ Eval Health Prof. 2016 Nov 23;13:42. eCollection 2016.

Australian medical students have fewer opportunities to do physical examination of peers of the opposite gender.

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Office of Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW Australia.



Peer physical examination (PPE), by which junior medical students learn physical examination skills before practicing on patients, is a widely implemented and accepted part of medical curricula. However, the ethical implications of PPE have been debated, since issues including student gender impact on its acceptability. Research has previously demonstrated the phenomenon of 'attitude-behavior inconsistency' showing that students' predictions about their participation in PPE differ from what they actually do in practice. This study asks whether gender and student self-ratings of outlook affect engagement in PPE.


This study gathered data from students who had completed PPE with the objective of determining what factors have the greatest impact on the actual practice of PPE by students. Data were used to derive the number of opportunities students had to examine a peer, for various body parts. Respondent gender and self-ratings of outlook were recorded.


Responses from 130 students were analysed: 74 female (57%) and 56 male (43%). Students have fewer opportunities to examine peers of the opposite gender; this is statistically significant for all body parts when male students examine female peers.


Gender is the factor of overriding importance on whether these peer interactions actually occur, such that students have fewer opportunities to examine peers of the opposite gender, particularly male students examining female peers. Student outlook has little impact. We speculate that the more acceptable PPE is to participants, paradoxically, the more complicated these interactions become, possibly with implications for future practice.


Attitude; Australia; Medical students; Peer group; Physical examination

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