Medical Student Attitudes on Abortion Reflect Professionalism: A Qualitative Exploration

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OBJECTIVE:In medical education we must train learners to be competent in aspects of professionalism. It is challenging to assess an individual’s professionalism. The goal of this study was to examine the extent that medical students' attitudes toward abortion, as captured through vignettes and interviews, reflect their overall general professionalism attitudes.METHODS:We conducted qualitative interviews with 4th-year medical students who had applied for ob/gyn residency programs between 2012 and 2014. Semi-structured interviews explored factors that influenced their attitudes toward abortion before medical school, any transition in attitudes that occurred during medical school, and how they perceive abortion to be relevant to their future training and medical practices. Narratives were analyzed for meaningful patterns regarding professionalism tenants as outlined in the Charter for Medical Professionalism based on an analytical approach.RESULTS:The final sample included 74 students enrolled in 39 medical schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Within-transcript content related to abortion attitudes, three themes emerged. First, students reflected on abortion care as a primacy of patient welfare. Second, students recognized patient autonomy was preserved when abortion was offered as a pregnancy option. Lastly, students advocated that availability of abortion services fell within the preview of social justice to be afforded to their future patients.CONCLUSION:The investigation of attitudes toward abortion through a qualitative approached provides an assessment of professionalism tenants in medical students. This finding may inform professionalism curricula that utilize pregnancy options and abortion case-based scenarios to facilitate medical student learning and assessment.

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