Treatment of self, family members and others

This resource helps explain what you can expect of physicians or surgeons in situations when they treat themselves, family members or others close to them.

Can a physician or surgeon treat themselves, family members, and others close to them?

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia is committed to your protection and safety.

Physicians and surgeons are generally not supposed to treat themselves, their family members (such as parents, children, siblings or cousins) or others who are close to them (such as friends, colleagues and staff).  

Close or personal relationships and professional boundaries

When physicians or surgeons provide medical care in the context of a close or personal relationship, it may be hard for them to set and maintain proper professional boundaries. Without proper boundaries in a therapeutic relationship, physicians and surgeons may find it difficult to obtain a detailed medical history, conduct sensitive (private) examinations or fully explain treatment options.

Although discouraged, there are rare circumstances where it may be considered acceptable for a physician or surgeon to provide medical care to a person with whom they have a personal relationship. 

Practising in small communities

The College also recognizes that physicians and surgeons practising in rural or remote settings face unique circumstances. Although physicians and surgeons in small communities may not be able to avoid all social interactions with their patients, the College expects that they will always use their best judgment to manage relationships appropriately so that patient care is not compromised, even unintentionally.

General expectations

When treating themselves, family members, or another close to them, a physician or surgeon must:

  • exercise good judgment when deciding to provide medical treatment to anyone they have another relationship with, reflecting on how this relationship may affect the objectivity of their care
  • assess the medical treatment needed and only move forward with treating themselves, a family member or someone close to them if the condition is minor (a non-urgent, non-serious condition that does not require ongoing care) or urgent (where a person is experiencing severe suffering or is at risk of sustaining serious harm if medical intervention is not promptly provided)
  • not provide repeated treatment for an ongoing disease or condition, even if it is minor
  • not prescribe narcotic or psychoactive medications
  • continuously re-evaluate their relationship and determine if they are still able to be objective while providing care
    • if the physician or surgeon’s judgment has been impacted by changes in their relationship with the patient, they must transfer the care of the patient to another health-care professional