Ethics in a short white coat: the ethical dilemmas that medical students confront

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Many existing ethics curricula fail to address the subtle yet critical ethical issues that medical students confront daily. The authors report on the kinds of dilemmas students face as clinical clerks, using cases that students submitted in 1991–92 during an innovative and well-received ethics class given at a tertiary care hospital as part of the internal medicine clerkship. Analysis of these cases reveals that many dilemmas are intimately tied to the student's unique role on the medical health care team. Recurring themes included the student's pursuit of experience, differing degrees of knowledge and ignorance among team members, and dealing with disagreement within the hierarchical authority structure of the medical team. The authors conclude that some components of ethical education must be participant-driven and developmentally stage-specific, focusing more attention on the kinds of ethical decisions made by medical students as opposed to those made by residents or practicing physicians.

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