Measuring Moral Courage for Interns and Residents: Scale Development and Initial Psychometrics

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To develop a practical and psychometrically sound set of survey items that measures moral courage for physicians in the context of patient care.


In 2013, the 731 internal medicine and surgical interns and residents from two northeastern U.S. academic medical centers were invited to anonymously complete a survey about moral courage, empathy, and speaking up about patient safety breaches.


Of the eligible participants, 352 (48%) responded. Principal components analysis of the moral courage items demonstrated a single, meaningful, nine-item factor labeled the Moral Courage Scale for Physicians (MCSP). All item–total score correlations were significant (P < .001) and ranged from 0.57 to 0.76. The Cronbach alpha for the MCSP was 0.90. Consistent with expectations based on theory, MCSP scores were negatively associated with being an intern versus resident (B = −4.17, P < .001), suggesting discriminant validity. MCSP scores were positively associated with respondents’ Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy perspective-taking score (B = 0.53, P < .001), a construct conceptually relevant to moral courage, suggesting convergent validity. Finally, MCSP scores were positively correlated with self-reported speaking up about patient safety breaches (r = 0.19, P = .008), an action that involves moral courage, suggesting concurrent validity.


The authors provided initial evidence for the reliability and validity of a measure of moral courage for physicians. The MCSP may help researchers and educators to tangibly measure physician moral courage as a concept, and track progress on a set of desired behaviors in response to curricular interventions.

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