Being a medical student has many benefits, but just as many responsibilities, as Dr Kathryn Leask explains.

Becoming a doctor is not just about treating patients and having excellent clinical knowledge. You need to consider how you behave along with your academic performance.

Doctors must act in a professional way, and this relates to their behaviour outside work as well as when they are dealing with patients and their colleagues. The General Medical Council (GMC) takes an interest in doctors' behaviour if it calls their professionalism into question, so you should too.

This same standard of professionalism also applies to students. You're expected to make sure that your personal conduct doesn't bring your future professionalism or profession into disrepute, and this includes behaviour in your personal life. A medical student's behaviour should not jeopardise the public's trust in the medical profession.

How it relates to students

It can be difficult to adjust to life in medical school. Competition is strong and previously high-achievers may find themselves being regarded as 'just' an average student, rather than being at the top of their class.

Students can find themselves in academic difficulty, and this in itself may call their fitness to practice into question and raise concerns about their ability to continue in their chosen degree. But it's by no means the only reason students face disciplinary proceedings.

What can incur an FTP investigation?

The GMC and Medical Schools Council have produced guidance to help medical students and universities recognise what is expected from students, in terms of their performance at medical school and beyond.*

It's important to be familiar with this, as being in breach of it could lead to a university fitness to practise (FTP) investigation, and may make it difficult for a student to gain their provisional registration with the GMC when they graduate.

The GMC takes an interest in doctors' behaviour if it calls their professionalism into question, so you should too.

The guidance includes a non-exhaustive list of the types of behaviour which would call a student's fitness to practise into question. Not surprisingly this includes criminal convictions, ranging from drug and alcohol misuse and public disorder offences through to theft, financial fraud and aggressive or threatening behaviour.

Doctors have an obligation to inform the GMC if they have accepted a caution from the police or charged with or found guilty of a criminal offence, and this can lead to a full GMC investigation.

What students may not realise is that FTP investigations can also arise due to concerns about inappropriate attitude. These might include lack of commitment, poor time management, poor attendance, poor communication and failure to accept or follow advice given by their educators.

Investigations may also result from cheating in examinations and portfolios, forging signatures (such as that of a supervisor) and passing off other people's work as their own.

Implications of fitness to practise

These are all issues that could affect students on any university course. But they have greater implications for those studying medicine as they call into question the student's ability to be a practising doctor.

Importantly, some also call into question the student's honesty. Behaving in a dishonest way is taken very seriously by medical schools and by the GMC, and persistent dishonest behaviour is very likely to result in a student being removed from the course. It's possible to correct or account for academic failure and even attitude towards your studies, but habitual dishonesty is very difficult to overcome.

Remember that your behaviour, including your contributions to your studies, attendance and attitude, will be monitored. Any concerns will be flagged up and you may find that you are drawing attention to yourself for all the wrong reasons.