Characteristics of the informal curriculum and trainees' ethical choices
In October 1995, the Association of American Medical Colleges held its first Conference on Students' and Residents' Ethical and Professional Development. In a plenary session and break-out sessions, the 150 participants, representing a wide variety of medical and professional specialties and roles, discussed the factors and programs that affect medical trainees' development of ethical and professional standards of behavior. The main challenge of addressing students' professional development is the enormous range of influences on that development, many of which, such as the declines in civic responsibility and good manners throughout the United States, fall outside the scope of academic medicine. Nonetheless, many influences fall within reach of medical educators. In a pre-conference survey, participants ranked eight issues related to graduating ethical physicians. The respondents ranked highest the inadequacy of the understanding of how best to influence students' ethical development, followed by faculty use of dehumanizing coping mechanisms, and the “business” of medicine's taking precedence over academic goals. The plenary speakers discussed the “informal curriculum” and the “hidden curriculum” and the need for medical faculty to take seriously the great influence they have on students' and residents' moral and professional development as they become physicians. Whether consciously or not, medical education programs are producing physicians who do not meet the ethical standards the profession has traditionally expected its members to meet. In three series of break-out sessions, the participants analyzed the nature of the ethical dilemmas that medical students and residents face from virtually the first day of their training, the use of role playing in promoting ethical development, and ways to improve policies and overcome barriers to change.