Systematizing the Teaching of Medical Ethics in the Undergraduate Medical Years
Medical students at the University of Michigan encounter ethical issues throughout their four years of training. Some are obvious – decisions at the end of life, the allocation of scarce of medical resources, challenges to patient autonomy – others are less obvious – relationships between medical residents and medical students, problems with the “hidden curriculum,” and systemic discrimination in the provision of care. Our goal is to make students aware of the variety of ethical problems in medical care and to equip them to respond to these problems in a wise and responsible manner.
To that end, our curriculum efforts focus on extending the existing curriculum and on making the medical ethics curriculum for undergraduate medical students at UM more systematic and explicit. Because we want students to become well-versed in thinking through ethical dilemmas before they encounter them in their clinical work we weave ethics into the curriculum throughout the 4 years of their undergraduate training. We use the expertise of our CBSSM faculty to create novel curricular components that incorporate our empirical work in bioethics with our particular expertise in decision science.
Increasing Opportunities for Ethics Teaching in the Clerkship Years
We facilitate regular ethics discussions for medical students at the end of their required clinical rotations in Obstetrics and Gynecology (in the third year) and Emergency Medicine (in the fourth year). To facilitate these discussions, students prepare short essays on ethical dilemmas encountered in these clerkships. Students are given a summary of all the issues that came up that rotation, which is used as a starting point for a discussion facilitated by a clinical faculty member trained in ethics. In addition, the Internal Medicine subinternship (an option for fourth year students) includes an ethics discussion at the end of the rotation.
These discussions allow medical students to bring up concerns with ethical dilemmas in a safe environment, teach the students about approaches to ethics, and embed training in ethical decision-making in clinical practice. This is often the first time students learn about the role of the hospital ethics committee and how they can contact them if desired.
“That was unexpectedly awesome!"
-- Medical student after Ob/Gyn ethics discussion
Advanced Medical Therapeutics Ethics Module
All fourth year medical students are required to take an online Advanced Medical Therapeutics course. As part of the course, we created an ethics module that includes multiple cases that present ethical dilemmas. Each case includes pre-recorded videos of faculty discussing the ethical aspects of the case and interactive components requiring students to choose possible solutions to the problem, after which they receive explanations of the pros and cons of their choice.
Medical Ethics Path of Excellence
CBSSM faculty work closely with the medical school to strengthen the medical ethics curriculum for Michigan medical students. Our goal is to make students aware of the broad range of ethical challenges facing 21st century medicine – challenges in clinical care, medical research and the design of health care delivery. Most recently, a team of CBSSM faculty developed the Medical Ethics Pathway of Excellence, an opportunity for students to receive mentored training in ethics throughout their four years of medical school.
Overview of Medical Ethics Pathway to Excellence:
- Introduced in September 2013, the first 10 students were accepted in 2014. Twelve students joined in 2015.
- Students apply to the Ethics Path of Excellence at the end of February during their M1 year, and continue their studies through their M4 year. Students in the POE learn to:
- Identify ethical issues in the organization and delivery of health care
- Implement tools and strategies to address ethical issues
- Continue their professional education and development of the skills required for leadership
- Before applying to the Ethics Path of Excellence, students have the opportunity to attend fourteen interactive lunchtime lectures that review various aspects of ethics in a healthcare setting. Applicants must attend a minimum of five of these lectures.
- Students who want to serve on ethics committees and/or include ethics as part of an academic career are provided with specialized training.
- All students participate in an individualized, independent study, culminating in a capstone project in the M4 year. Often this work includes field work at CBSSM.
Beginning in 2015, the Path of Excellence has been responsible for administering the core ethics curriculum for all of the M1 students. The Ethics Path of Excellence will continue to be a co-curricular activity until 2017 when all students will be required to choose one of the paths offered in the medical school.
“We really want to educate people to be the ethics committee consultants of the future. I think it's pretty unique to have the option of pursuing this extracurricular program because essentially it teaches you leadership skills and how to be a self-directed learner. These are skills you'll really need when you become faculty. Students can take their interest in ethics and pursue it further.”
Lauren Smith, M.D., Associate Professor of Pathology
Lauren Smith is the Director of the Path of Excellence. Andrew Barnosky, Christian Vercler, Ed Goldman, Kathryn Moseley, Janice Firn, Sacha Montas, and Raymond De Vries are core faculty members.
Start Seeing Ethics Lunch Discussions
As part of the Medical Ethics Path of Excellence, we offer lunch time discussions of cutting-edge topics in ethics. The content of these discussions includes topics such as conscientious objection, mandatory vs. optional vaccinations, patient centered care and shared decision making. We have also used these discussions to hold mock ethics committee meetings with discussion of a specific case. Facilitators provide a relaxed atmosphere in which students can feel comfortable asking questions and voicing opinions.
"It is exciting to see medical students engage with the ethical issues that arise in the clinic and the classroom. With encouragement from us they are beginning to see that there is more to medical ethics than just the well-known issues at the beginning and end of life. While these ethical issues are important, there are also moral consequences associated with the mundane aspects of being a student and working with patients." Raymond De Vries, PhD, Director, Ethics Education Initiative