Student and clinician perceptions of medical student mistreatment: a cross-sectional vignette survey

BMJ Open. 2022 Sep 14;12(9):e061253. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-061253.


Objectives: The mistreatment of medical students remains pervasive in medical education. Understanding the extent to which clinicians and students recognise mistreatment can assist in creating targeted interventions that reduce mistreatment. The objective of this study was to use clinical vignettes to assess perceptions of medical student mistreatment among medical students and clinical faculty at an Australian university.

Design, setting and participants: This cross-sectional study used a survey of medical students and clinical faculty in a Doctor of Medicine (MD) programme at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Data were collected via an online survey between 13 July and 27 July 2020.

Outcome measures: Fourteen clinical vignettes were developed based on commonly reported themes of mistreatment. An additional control vignette was also included, and these 15 vignettes were distributed via email to all 169 MD students and 42 teaching faculty at this teaching site. Participants were asked to rate whether the vignettes portrayed mistreatment on a 5-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree).

Results: Respondents included 83 MD students and 34 clinical faculty. On average, students perceived mistreatment in 9 of 14 vignettes and faculty in 8 of 14 vignettes. Faculty and student perceptions aligned in themes of sexual abuse, physical abuse and in the control vignette depicting a constructive teaching style. Perceptions differed significantly between faculty and students (p<0.05) for five vignettes across the themes of gender discrimination, requests of students to perform non-educational tasks, humiliation, specialty choice discrimination and requests to perform a task beyond the student's capacity.

Conclusion: Agreement on what constitutes appropriate behaviour is crucial to ensuring that a culture of mistreatment can be replaced with one of kindness, equity and respect. This study demonstrated the successful use of vignettes to compare perceptions of mistreatment, with faculty and student perceptions differing across a variety of themes.

Keywords: change management; health & safety; medical education & training; organisational development.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Faculty
  • Humans
  • Students, Medical*
  • Universities