Learning Respect – a reflection

This piece was written by three of us in a sort of excited flurry and appeared as a Personal View in the BMJ. In the same issue was a paper from Canada that vindicated our position to some extent, but did not protect us from a negative reaction. There were 16 rapid responses. One of them agreed with us, but the other 15 did not, and several were furious. In retrospect I would accept the criticism of our style. It is a little tabloid in flavour and sanctimonious or self-righteous in content. But I think all the protestations (from doctors) that our experience must have been from either a long time ago or a long way away smack of denial. And the jolly medical quip along the lines of “if someone is going to stick their finger up my bottom I would rather be anaesthetised”, whilst amusing and effective in a way, simply illustrates the lack of engagement with ethical and emotional matters that renders the making and remaking of our point necessary.

This is one piece that, if I were to revisit, I would like to back up with “evidence”. It would be informative to hear from a recent cohort of medical students. Perhaps they learn these techniques on plastic mannequins. If so, then they are unlikely to be causing distress and violation in the actual process of their learning, but they may have been deprived of the deeper learning that they so desperately need, deferring it to such time as they meet their first live patient.

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