Professionalism and ethics education on relationships and boundaries: psychiatric residents' training preferences

Acad Psychiatry. Nov-Dec 2009;33(6):461-9. doi: 10.1176/appi.ap.33.6.461.


Objective: Awareness of the privileges and limits of one's role as physician, as well as recognition and respect for the patient as a human being, are central to ethical medical practice. The authors were particularly interested in examining the attitudes and perceived needs of psychiatric residents toward education on professional boundaries and relationships given the heightened current focus on professionalism and ethics.

Methods: Residents from six psychiatric residencies provided views on professionalism and ethics education on a survey encompassing 10 domains of professionalism. The authors focus on residents' perceived need for education on boundaries in the psychiatrist-patient relationship and in peer-peer and supervisor-trainee interactions.

Results: Respondents (N=134) felt that nine relationship and boundary issues arising during training should receive more education: being asked to work with inadequate supervision, resolving conflicts between attendings and trainees, resident health care, adequately caring for patients while adhering to work-hour guidelines, performing work beyond one's competence, mistreatment of residents, sexual/romantic relationships between faculty and trainees, mistreatment of medical students, and sexual/romantic relationships between residents and medical students (p<0.05 in all cases). In addition, 15 relationship and boundary issues arising during clinical practice were felt to warrant more education: responding to impaired colleagues, coping with mistakes in clinical care, reporting mistakes, balancing personal and professional life, resolving conflicts, writing prescriptions for friends or family, allocation of health care resources, providing medical advice to friends and family, physicians' social responsibilities, interacting with families, medicine as a profession, gender bias, being asked to falsify clinical information, accepting gifts from patients, and personal relationships with patients (p<0.05 in all cases).

Conclusion: The authors found a perceived need for more education for psychiatric residents for the majority of topics pertaining to boundaries and relationships. Residents who reported encountering ethical dilemmas more frequently wanted more education on these topics.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Awareness / ethics*
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Curriculum / standards
  • Data Collection
  • Ethics, Medical / education*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humanism
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / ethics*
  • Interprofessional Relations / ethics
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment / ethics
  • Physician's Role / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Psychiatry / education*
  • Psychiatry / ethics*