28 Oct 2016

Medical students practising invasive procedures on themselves

7:19 am on 28 October 2016

Some New Zealand medical students are practising vital invasive procedures on themselves and each other, a study published today reveals.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The Otago University study has been published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

The university decided to survey students after interviews for a documentary several years ago indicated some students were perfecting their use of invasive techniques, including installing IV lines, taking blood, suturing wounds and removing moles, by practising on themselves.

Researchers surveyed 800 medical students in their fourth, fifth and sixth year of study at the university.

Of the 284 who responded, 5 percent, or 15 students, said they practised on themselves, usually unsupervised.

Study co-author and deputy vice-chancellor Helen Nicholson said it came as a surprise.

"It was injections or cannulation, putting up a drip or taking blood, and they talked about the technical difficulties of working on yourself."

She said it could pose risks for students who might faint or fall while alone, and the university did not encourage students to practise on themselves.

"Im not sure that practising on one's self is a good way forward and certainly both at Otago and Auckland students learn a lot about self care and professional behaviour and this isn't something we would be encouraging."

The study found most students learnt by practising on patients, with their consent and usually under supervision.

But some commonly practised on other medical students, taking turns to deliver the procedure.

A sixth-year medical student, who RNZ News agreed to call Mike, said he had never practised on himself, but pupils did practise with each other.

"In my experience we do them on the wards when we've got nothing else to do and we want to practise doing a line, and there might be a couple of students on the same team and there aren't any patients to see or work to do so they'll go and practise putting in lines in each other."

Mike said those involved were probably trying to learn more in a less pressured environment, such as at home.

"My suspicion is it's just because you want to do it in a low-stress environment, in which case I think that's fine, and it should be emphasized that should be done under the supervision of a doctor or a tutor."

The only qualms students reported in the study about practising on themselves was the need to, in their words, pilfer equipment.

"We felt bad taking IV lines from a nursing station once. They had four. We took all four. I'm so sorry."

Otago Medical School dean Peter Crampton said the university did not condone students practising such procedures at home alone or in pairs.

"Self medication, although we're not talking about that here, is something that is an absolute no no.

"Self treatment in the form of, if you call it that, these procedures that we're referring to here, would also be in most circumstances really frowned upon, not helpful."

He said the university had worked hard to provide students with opportunities to practise procedures in safe settings, including on simulations using dummies.

The university is planning a follow-up study on why students practise on themselves, which will be published next year.