On the culture of student abuse in medical school

Acad Med. 1998 Nov;73(11):1149-58. doi: 10.1097/00001888-199811000-00011.


The abuse of students is ingrained in medical education, and has shown little amelioration despite numerous publications and righteous declarations by the academic community over the past decade. The culture of abuse conflicts with the renewed commitments of medical educators and practice professionals to imbue students with a higher degree of professionalism and cultural sensitivity. The authors describe the profiles of student abuse, drawn from recent national surveys of medical students using the AAMC Medical School Graduation Questionnaire, and focus on the most common forms of reported mistreatment--public belittlement and humiliation--that appear to be misguided efforts to reinforce learning. Along with others, the authors believe that the use of aversive methods to make students learn and behave is likely to foster insensitive and punitive behaviors that are passed down from teacher to learner, a "transgenerational legacy" that leads to future mistreatment of others by those who themselves have been mistreated. The undesirable result is compounded when these behaviors are adopted and directed toward patients and colleagues. The authors advocate more concerted action to curtail the abuse of medical students, citing current and proposed accreditation standards that will be employed more stringently by the LCME, and propose a series of more assertive actions that schools should take. The authors stress that the attitudes, behaviors, and values that students acquire in medical school are as much the products of their socialization as the outcomes of curricular design and pedagogy, and implore medical educators to tidy up the environment for learning.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Faculty, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Prejudice
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Sexual Harassment / psychology
  • Sexual Harassment / statistics & numerical data
  • Socialization*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • United States