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Teaching hospitals and consent

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Feb. 02, 2010 12:00AM EST

Re Time To End Pelvic Exams Done Without Consent (Life, Jan. 28): Medical students would not “parade” into the operating room after a gynecologic procedure is finished, to undertake a pelvic floor examination on an anaesthetized woman. The usual practice is for a single medical student to be present throughout as a member of the surgical team.

In Calgary, patients give written consent for medical students to be involved in their surgical care, including medically necessary examinations, and patients are specifically informed before surgery, by the surgeon, that they may be examined by a trainee. If a patient objects, their wishes are honoured.

A medical student can only undertake a pelvic exam if the exam is required as part of surgery and the student is part of the surgical team.

Dr. Sara Wainberg’s paper discussed women’s attitudes to pelvic floor examinations being undertaken by medical students, in relation to consent. The concern expressed by a number of scholars is whether implicit consent for pelvic-floor exam under anesthetic, by a trainee, as recommended by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada guidelines, is sufficient.

Implicit consent should be supplemented by the surgeon explicitly informing the patient that she may be examined by a trainee, as stressed by the guidelines. Of paramount concern is the need for medical students to learn basic examination techniques in a safe, well supervised setting. In the case of pelvic examination on an anaesthetized woman, it is also important to ensure the patient is adequately informed.

Sue Ross, director of research; R. Douglas Wilson, head, Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Calgary