Ethics education is accepted as a standard component of all medical school curricula in spite of limited research on its pedagogy, processes, or efficacy. The widely accepted rationale for the inclusion of medical ethics education in the curriculum is that it helps to prepare students to deal with the value conflicts and ethical problems that arise when the physician role is assumed.
It is presumed to sensitize physicians-in-training to the conflicting values and health practices of our multicultural society and, in fact, physicians report that medical ethics education is “useful” for making difficult decisions and for increasing their self-confidence when such decisions must be made. So, as medical schools prepare students with the skills to treat disease and promote wellness, medical ethics education is included to prepare students for the conflicts that will arise as they perform their duties.
In addition to this purpose, some people also see medical ethics education as a way in which to influence physician attitudes and future behaviors. Unfortunately, we do not know if medical ethics education has any significant or lasting effect. Beyond anecdotal reports, we do not know if its current pedagogy or processes are successfully preparing students to deal with value conflicts and ethical problems. Medical ethics education is important to more than future physicians. It also affects all of the patients of these physicians.
While medical ethics education acknowledges that value conflicts exist, little is known about how to prepare medical students to successfully resolve competing demands of healthcare stakeholders. It seems logical that in the course of a doctor’s interactions with patients; demands from patient, professional, institutional, societal, and/or personal interests may naturally compete.
Medical and popular literature acknowledges that the conflicting societal, individual, and professions stakeholder needs and values are, in fact, often indirect and virulent competition. Managed and rationed healthcare are examples of the conflicts with which the future physician must be prepared to cope and to explain to healthcare consumers and to society.