The Association of Canadian Medical Colleges is to convene a task force to consider the impact of medical education on students' attitudes to sex with patients.
A study in Ontario has suggested that students are more likely to understand laws regarding improper sexual conduct if issues are properly integrated into the curriculum.
Lorraine Ferris, a senior scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, conducted a study of 394 students at five Ontario medical schools.
The survey questioned medical students in their final year of study about provincial legislation concerning sexual abuse of patients by physicians.
It polled 70 per cent of those in their final year last spring and autumn and found that students with higher levels of education and training in medical school about sexual abuse issues were more up to speed on the law. For example, those students were more likely to indicate that they would notify the regulatory authority of a suspected sexual relationship, regardless of whether or not they knew the physician in question.
The study found that almost half of those surveyed said the provincial legislation was unfair, but those students may not have been fully aware of the specific policies. The legislation does not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual sexual activity.
Dr Ferris said the results pointed to the necessity of teaching sexual-abuse issues in medical schools, across clinical settings and subject areas. "The more you can reinforce it in different places, the more the student can absorb it and think critically."
Abraham Fuks, dean of McGill's faculty of medicine and president of the ACMC, said students had to understand that laws covering professions such as medicine were put into place not simply to reprimand one person but for the trust of patients and for those future doctors that an ethical profession would need to attract.