Knowing where to look for the right information when you need it can make a big difference to your studies and your future career. Dr Kathryn Leask points you in the right direction.

Have you ever had the feeling that you should know the answer to a question, or at least know where to find it, but you can't quite put your finger on it?

There is a large - and growing - amount of guidance out there for medical students and doctors and it's often difficult to know where to turn to find a particular answer to a particular question. Some of this guidance relates to clinical decision making, such as that produced by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), while some relates to legal and ethical decision making.

Even as a medical student it's important to be aware of the guidance produced for doctors by various organisations so you can appropriately apply it to your studies. Learning about this guidance now will put you in a much better position when you qualify and will help you act professionally, and in your patient's best interests.

Standard values

Guidance specifically tailored towards medical students and medical schools includes three pieces of literature produced by the General Medical Council (GMC).

'Medical students: professional values and fitness to practise' is a joint piece of guidance produced by the GMC and the Medical Schools Council (MSC). It provides medical students with advice on the standards of professional behaviour expected of them and information about student fitness to practise.

As doctors of the future it's important that you understand the responsibilities associated with studying medicine. You don't want to put your career at risk before it has begun, so make sure your behaviour doesn't cast doubt on your suitability to become a doctor.

Although the GMC isn't responsible for regulating medical schools, it does set standards that medical education and training in the UK should reach. This is currently laid out in 'Tomorrow's Doctors', which will be replaced in January 2016 by 'Promoting excellence: standards for medical education and training'. It's available to read now, and places the emphasis on patient safety being the first priority.

Helping yourself

Also for medical students, the GMC and MSC have also produced guidance on 'Supporting medical students with mental health conditions', which reassures students that help is available and encourages them to seek appropriate support and advice from their own GP or from the medical school and university. This guidance can also apply to those students who may also have a physical disability and may need extra support to help them succeed.

All doctors, once qualified, will need to be registered with the GMC and must abide by the GMC's codes of ethics and guidance. This guidance has expanded rapidly over the last few years and it is important for you, as a student, to get to grips with it in order to prepare you for your life in clinical practice.

All of the guidance and supplementary guidance can be accessed from the GMC website. Here we have collected some links to guidance you'll need to be aware of in order to comply with the standards set by the regulator, regardless of the speciality you enter or the grade at which you are practising:

The GMC updated its guidance on consent in November 2020. The updated guidance, Decision making and consent, places greater emphasis on doctors and patients taking decisions together based on exchange of relevant information specific to the individual patient.

Photo credit: Getty

There's also supplementary guidance to 'Good medical practice', covering issues like disclosure to the DVLA, ending your professional relationship with a patient, good practice in prescribing and managing medicines and devices, what to do when a patient seeks advice about assistance to die, the use of visual and audio recordings of patients and much more. All this can be found on the GMC site.

In addition to the ethical guidance, there is of course a wealth of clinical guidance from various other sources, such as the Royal Colleges, NICE and the Department of Health.

Hospital Trusts are also likely to have their own internal clinical policies and guidelines, and you should stick to these unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. It's worth remembering that national guidelines are usually available online and are therefore accessible to patients, who may already have read them before seeing their doctor.

You can also get advice from the MDU's medico-legal advisers, who are always available if you need to discuss a medico-legal or ethical dilemma, or just need to know what guidance might be applicable to your situation.

This page was correct at publication on 09/12/2015. 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.