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Power and powerlessness
  1. John Launer
  1. Dr John Launer, London Department of Postgraduate Medical Education, Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DN, UK; jlauner{at}

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Many years ago, I came up with an idea that medical students should each have to sign a special consent form when they started their training. The form would allow their medical school, at some random moment in the next few years, to admit them to hospital with an imaginary illness. According to this scheme, every student would suddenly receive a message out of the blue, saying that they had contracted severe pneumonia, a compound fracture of the leg or some other major condition. They would then be admitted to hospital and given more or less exactly the same treatment as if their assigned problems were genuine. Some might be put on intravenous drips and gastro-nasal feeds. Others might have limbs put in plaster casts and on traction. All of them would be confined to bed.

For some students, discharge after a week or two might be followed by having to move around on crutches or in a wheelchair for a further length of time, or even for the rest of their course. One or two might be obliged to simulate even worse disabilities—for example, being blindfolded for several weeks in order to experience the effects of a sudden loss of sight. There would be no appeal against these arrangements on the grounds that they were about to take their exams, go on holiday, or …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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