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Supporting colleagues

Knowing when to help

Respect for colleagues

Male surgeon consoling colleague in hospital corridorWhen other healthcare workers do not perform optimally, it is appropriate to take steps to improve their performance. However, this should be done with empathy and courtesy, not with anger or disrespect.

Case: A colleague's unprofessional behaviour

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Code of Ethics states that physicians are ethically obligated to report "to the appropriate authority any unprofessional conduct by colleagues."

Blurred image of a glass of wine


A fourth-year medical student is completing her internal medicine rotation. She has become close friends with one of the first-year residents and frequently attends the same social events.

The student notices that the resident often drinks excessively. She has discussed this with her friend, recommending that she seek assistance from her family physician.

One evening, the student is on-call with the resident and smells alcohol on the resident's breath. She becomes concerned about the patients' safety as she believes the resident's performance is compromised.

Think about it

  • What factors should the student consider when deciding whether to report the resident?

    Answer: The risk of harm to patients.

  • What should the clerk do in this situation?

    Answer: Immediately seek help from a supervisor to assess the resident's competency to continue.

Think about it

  • What reporting responsibilities do treating physicians have when concerned about physician patients?

    Answer: Determine if the resident should stop practising until she can be referred to the provincial physician health program for assessment and treatment if necessary.

Contact the CMPA for advice on reporting requirements to the College.

Lessons learned

  • While reporting a physician colleague or physician patient can be difficult and upsetting, it is important to understand your reporting obligations in these types of circumstances.