Teaching, learning and assessment of medical ethics at the UK medical schools

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Abstract

Objectives

To evaluate the UK undergraduate medical ethics curricula against the Institute of Medical Ethics (IME) recommendations; to identify barriers to teaching and assessment of medical ethics and to evaluate perceptions of ethics faculties on the preparation of tomorrow's doctors for clinical practice.

Design

Questionnaire survey of the UK medical schools enquiring about content, structure and location of ethics teaching and learning; teaching and learning processes; assessment; influences over institutional approach to ethics education; barriers to teaching and assessment; perception of student engagement and perception of student preparation for clinical practice.

Participants

The lead for medical ethics at each medical school was invited to participate (n=33).

Results

Completed responses were received from 11/33 schools (33%). 73% (n=8) teach all IME recommended topics within their programme. 64% (n=7) do not include ethics in clinical placement learning objectives. The most frequently cited barrier to teaching was lack of time (64%, n=7), and to assessment was lack of time and suitability of assessments (27%, n=3). All faculty felt students were prepared for clinical practice.

Conclusions

IME recommendations are not followed in all cases, and ethics teaching is not universally well integrated into clinical placement. Barriers to assessment lead to inadequacies in this area, and there are few consequences for failing ethics assessments. As such, tomorrow's patients will be treated by doctors who are inadequately prepared for ethical decision making in clinical practice; this needs to be addressed by ethics leads with support from medical school authorities.

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