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Health Sciences Lecturers and Students’ Perspectives on the Ethical Aspects of Peer Physical Examination (PPE)


Globally, universities make use of peer physical examination (PPE) in health professions students’ teaching of physical examination skills. PPE has many educational benefits, such as teaching normal anatomy and function, development of compassion and empathy, to feel what it is like to be examined from a patient’s perspective, improvement of communication skills, correcting errors in technique and improve confidence. The benefits for patients include protection from repeated examinations by unskilled students. The aim of the study was to investigate health sciences students’ perceptions of the ethical aspects of PPE. A qualitative investigation, which included two focus group interviews with students and one with lecturers, was used for data collection. Most students and lecturers regarded PPE as beneficial, as it provides a safe environment for students in the health sciences to improve their clinical competence and confidence, without fear of embarrassment or failure. Students stated that PPE promoted the development of empathy with and respect for their patients. It was suggested that in a culturally diverse society, guidelines specifically related to religious customs and convictions should be provided to give students an indication of appropriate and acceptable behaviour towards fellow students when practising PPE. The use of PPE in the training of students in the health professions should support the ethical principles of Beauchamp and Childress, namely beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy and justice/fairness.

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Dr. Daleen Struwig, medical writer/editor, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, for technical and editorial preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Maryna Hattingh.

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The authors do not have any conflict of interest to declare.

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Hattingh, M., Labuschagne, M. Health Sciences Lecturers and Students’ Perspectives on the Ethical Aspects of Peer Physical Examination (PPE). J Acad Ethics 17, 375–387 (2019).

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  • Peer physical examination
  • Health sciences
  • Students
  • Ethics
  • Perceptions