A new report suggests medical students are sometimes encouraged to breach informed consent guidelines by their supervisors.
The New Zealand Medical Association surveyed 93 final-year students at the University of Auckland, just over a third of the final year.
The peer-reviewed study indicates that the respondents were representative of the entire student population, matching age and gender distribution.
Most students admitted that they were not always compliant with consent guidelines.
The study focused particularly on sensitive procedures like breast, rectal or genital examinations. Across all those procedures, except for one, the majority of respondents admitted noncompliance.
The sole exception was in the case of non-birth-related pelvic examinations, which 85 per cent of respondents said they always performed with proper informed consent.
During breast examinations, on the other hand, only 17 per cent said they always sought consent.
Students noted that their clinical decisions were strongly influenced by their supervisors. Some said they were put under pressure to forgo informed consent, with one student noting that they were coerced into performing an unconsented rectal exam on an unconscious patient.
Students described some supervisors as being indifferent and unsupportive of the consent process. "I explained the university policy, but he wasn't concerned," wrote one student.
The report also points towards power imbalances, with respondents noting that they felt unable to challenge their seniors.
"I often felt unable or unwilling to question seniors even though I was aware that the consent process was not followed," wrote another.
The NZMA has suggested a review of the survey's findings to provide a safer environment for students and their patients.