We report the results of a randomized trial to assess the impact of an innovative ethics curriculum on the knowledge and confidence of 85 medical house officers in a university hospital programme, as well as their responses to a simulated clinical case. Twenty-five per cent of the house officers received a lecture series (Limited Intervention or LI), 25 per cent received lectures and case conferences, with an ethicist in attendance (Extensive Intervention or EI), and 50 per cent served as controls. A post-intervention questionnaire was administered. Knowledge scores did not differ among the groups. Confidence regarding ethical issues was significantly greater in the aggregate intervention group (3.9 on a 1 to 5 scale) compared to the control group (3.6). Confidence regarding procedural issues related to ethics was significantly higher for the EI group than for the controls (4.0 v 2.8). Responses to a simulated case showed that significantly fewer house officers in the EI group would intubate a patient for whom such therapy would be futile (EI = 57 per cent, LI = 87 per cent, Controls = 82 per cent). We conclude that ethics education can have an impact on house officers' confidence and their responses to a simulated case, and that the EI was more effective than the LI. Such results have implications regarding the implementation of ethics education during residency.
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