Dr Catherine Wills explains how MLAs can help during your time as a medical student and beyond

Around 40 doctors work as medico-legal advisers at the MDU. We are all specifically trained to excel at medico-legal work and between us we have hundreds of years of clinical experience across a variety of branches of medicine, including general practice and numerous hospital specialties. As well as having a strong interest in medico-legal matters in general, many of us were attracted to this role after seeing colleagues go through a series of gruelling investigations related to just one incident - what is known as 'multiple jeopardy'.

Having witnessed the hard times doctors can face, we understand the anxiety and stress that come with being under scrutiny and we are committed to providing the sort of expert, supportive help that really makes a difference.

'How may I help you?'

They say variety is the spice of life, and that is certainly true of work as a medico-legal adviser at the MDU. On any one day we could be helping a student prepare for a fitness to practice process that threatens their medical career, offering advice on how to deal with an adverse incident on the ward, helping a member understand how to raise concerns or simply confirming a point of procedure.

At the other end of the scale, a qualified doctor might be facing a disciplinary or criminal investigation relating to the care of a patient, or even an investigation from the GMC. We're there for members at all stages of their careers and no two cases are ever the same.

Many cases are relatively straightforward but some of the medico-legal concerns that can crop up in student life have the potential to impact on your registration once you qualify as a doctor. These might involve your studies - issues surrounding patient consent and confidentiality are common - or they might be related to life away from medicine, such as whether to accept a police caution. Regardless of how serious the issue might be, it's never too soon to ask us for help.

Always on call

A large part of our job is helping to staff the MDU's advice line - the first point of contact for many members who need advice or assistance. It's a 24-hour service so this occasionally means being on-call in the evening or overnight. The MDU receives over 23,000 calls each year, including urgent out-of hours calls from members needing emergency advice.

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For example, a doctor might be faced with an urgent dilemma such as a patient with depression who has been admitted after an overdose and refuses a washout - what should the treating team do? In this situation an MLA's advice can be crucial to the patient as well as the doctor.

As well as phone work, advisers respond to members who prefer advice in writing or who are sending in documents for us to review so that we can provide more detailed advice. Sometimes our members need very extensive help - with student fitness to practise or hospital disciplinary cases, for example - and in these circumstances we can meet with the member to help them prepare and accompany them to the hearing.

It's an adviser's job to provide straightforward advice to help you come to your own decisions with full knowledge of the relevant medical law and ethical guidance. Members who seek our advice are often already doing exactly the right things from a medico-legal perspective, but hopefully they benefit from some reassurance.

You might already have met an adviser delivering a lecture at your hospital or medical school. We really like having an opportunity to meet members and answer whatever medico-legal questions they may have, and we see education as an important part of our work. It's definitely better to think about ethical and medico-legal matters sooner rather than later, but if you ever need help, just remember; an MLA is never far away.

This page was correct at publication on 13/08/2015. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.