In response to popular demand from our
student members, we outline what you should do if you are on a plane and hear
the following announcement: “If there is a doctor on board please make yourself
known to the cabin crew.”
Your mind races, you have had a few drinks and
wonder if you should admit that you are a medical student and offer to help?
You are unsure because you are not a fully qualified doctor and the alcohol may
have affected your ability to practise safely. You also wonder what your legal
position is if you sit tight and don’t offer to help?
In Australia there is no common law requirement for medical students and
doctors to provide assistance as a ‘Good Samaritan’ in an emergency. However,
medical students and doctors do have an ethical obligation to offer assistance
in an emergency, taking into account your own safety, skills and the
availability of other options.1
Good Samaritan laws
throughout Australia provide protection from legal liability as long as care is
given in good faith and you are not impaired by drugs or alcohol at the
The ethical duty to render assistance in the case of an emergency
applies whether you are flying on a domestic or international carrier. Should
you disclose you are a medical student?
As a medical student, you may
think that you are not qualified or experienced enough to provide assistance in
emergency situations. However, students are often trained in basic life
support, and you may be the best medically qualified person available. Students
can also assist other doctors (for example, by performing chest compressions)
and are more likely to be able to effectively liaise with ground-support crew
than lay people.
Failure to identify yourself as a medical student and
render assistance could also expose you to the risk of a complaint to the
Medical Board of Australia and being found liable of professional
Are you impaired?
Alcohol and planes often go hand
in hand, but if you feel you are, or may be, over the legal drinking limit, you
need to consider whether you are capable of providing medical assistance. The
same applies if you have taken medication that may adversely affect your level
of competence and if you believe that your competence is compromised due to
If you decide that you are not capable of providing
medical assistance, we recommend that you inform the cabin crew that you are a
medical student and that you are, or may be, impaired. After determining the
nature of the medical emergency, you can then assess the degree to which you
may be able to help.
Emergency assistance on planes: 6 tips
you find yourself in this situation and decide to offer emergency medical
assistance on a plane, the following advice should help:
- Inform the crew and the passenger about the limits of your
medical experience and qualifications.
- Ask the crew if
they have access to surface medical support and if they do, request that they
immediately contact their dedicated health care support service.
- Obtain a history from the patient and obtain their consent before
initiating any examination or treatment.
- Consider your
wellbeing, in particular the risk of cross-contamination.
- If the patient speaks a different language, the airline’s surface
health care support service may be able to provide a translator. Alternatively,
you may be able to rely on a crew member or the patient’s family.
- If the patient is unable to consent to treatment and there is no
family member or ‘responsible person’ on board, you can proceed with treatment
if you believe on reasonable grounds that the proposed treatment is in the
patient’s best interests.
Your Student Indemnity Insurance Policy
covers you, subject to its terms and conditions, for any claims that may arise
in relation to you providing care as a Good Samaritan. It also extends to Good
Samaritan acts worldwide.
You may also be interested in...
Our news article about a Western
Australian doctor, Dr Dekker, a radiologist, who was involved in a
landmark improper professional conduct case for failing to render assistance at
the scene of an accident or a Good
Samaritan GP who received a complaint after helping a burn victim
If you need advice about giving Good Samaritan aid, call
Avant’s Medico-legal Advisory Service on 1800 128 268.
1. Medical Board of Australia’s Good Medical Practice: A
Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia, section 2.5.
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