Understanding Postgraduate Medical Ethics Education

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'Understanding Postgraduate Medical Ethics Education'


Knowledge Exchange Fellow:
Dr Andrew Papanikitas   |   Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences   |   University of Oxford

Partner Organisation:
Health Education England



Doctors are taught ethics whilst they are students at medical school, so why is additional education necessary after qualification? Medical students do indeed receive education on ethics (the study of applied moral philosophy) which aims at ensuring that they practice medicine that is morally good, and have some critical skills so that they can (for example) make sense of duties and challenge situations that are unjust. However until qualification this remains a relatively low-stakes theoretical exercise, and the teaching and learning of ethics varies in both nature and quantity. Moreover the postgraduate medical workforce is generationally and globally diverse, and doctors at all stages of their careers make sense of their ethics education in the context of multiple competing demands and local workplace culture. Accordingly there is some education in ethics that can and ought to be provided in postgraduate medical training. Certainly ethics and law are present in varying degrees in postgraduate medical curricula. Education on the subject, however, is much more variable and scanty than that provided to medical students. And as a doctor progresses in his or her clinical training they accrue more accountability for their decisions as well taking on additional responsibilities. There has renewed interest in postgraduate medical ethics education, especially in light of cases such as that of Dr Bawa-Garba and we will examine ethics education at the level of the newly qualified doctor, the doctor in specialist training and fully-qualified doctor’s ongoing educational needs. 

Andrew Papanikitas (Oxford) and John Spicer (HEE) have an excellent working relationship whilst working together on the Handbook of Primary Care Ethics -a multi-author practical volume that includes many humanities and medical academics from Oxford and medical educators within the wider Health Education England network, and which won a BMA Medical Book Award in 2018. The work undertaken will be: A joint library project to better understand what postgraduate medical ethics ought to entail, meetings with key stakeholders in postgraduate ethics education, a public symposium and published articles. One output from this will be a report with recommendations and another will be a guidance document for the European Education body AMEE https://amee.org/publications/amee-guides . One of the meetings planned for March 2019 will take place at St Catherine’s College in  association with the Collaborating Centre for Values Based Practice https://valuesbasedpractice.org/  with the aim of looking at ethics in UK postgraduate medical curricula from qualification to medical and surgical sub-speciality. We hope to work with local humanities scholars such as Professors Joshua Hordern and Bill Fullford as well as national stakeholders on the project.

Image copyright of Elspeth Manders 2017 https://elspethmanders.wordpress.com/

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