The amount of small-group case-study discussion needed to improve moral reasoning skills of medical students

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PURPOSE: To examine how much exposure to small-group case-study discussion is necessary to significantly increase moral reasoning skills. METHOD: For the classes of 1991-1998 at Texas A&M, using Rest's Defining Issues Test, the authors tested groups of students for moral reasoning skills both before and after the students participated in small-group case-study discussions of medical ethics. RESULTS: From 960 students asked to participate, the authors collected complete data for 729 students (75.9% response rate). Small-group case-study exposures ranged from 0 to 44 hours. Groups of students exposed to 20 hours or more demonstrated a significant increase in their moral reasoning scores. Groups with less than 20 hours of exposure demonstrated no significant increase in their scores. CONCLUSION: This study indicates that moral reasoning skills are teachable and measurable, and that small-group discussion significantly increases moral reasoning skills. Further studies are needed to increase the generalizability of these findings.

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