How & When Physicians Learn about Ethics?

How & When Physicians Learn about Ethics?

January 2019

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To paraphrase Mark Twain, there are only two times when physicians need to study ethics: before they get into trouble and after. Before they even begin to practice medicine, let alone violate ethical guidelines, todays medical student are required to study ethics. They attend lectures and seminars, discuss ethical dilemmas, and engage in exercises—all designed to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Meanwhile researchers and teachers experiment with new pedagogical approaches and look for ways to gauge the effectiveness of their efforts.

When those efforts fail and practitioners behave unethically, state medical boards often turn to a very different kind of education. Those given a second chance attend remedial courses meant to salvage their careers. Many are are required to pass an ethics exam before returning to practice.

It’s a complex, rapidly evolving landscape, and things are unlikely to settle down any time soon. But that only makes it more important to stop periodically and take stock, which is what we try to do in this issue. In the following articles, we consider the current state of medical ethics education, take a look at the exam medical boards often use to assess physician’s ethical competence, and detail the PBI approach to remedial ethics education.