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Developing a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum for professionalism and scientific integrity training for biomedical graduate students
  1. Nancy L Jones1,
  2. Ann M Peiffer2,
  3. Ann Lambros3,
  4. Martin Guthold4,
  5. A Daniel Johnson5,
  6. Michael Tytell6,
  7. April E Ronca7,
  8. J Charles Eldridge8
  1. 1Division Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, North Carolina & Department of Bioethics, Trinity International University, Illinois, USA
  2. 2Department of Radiology, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
  3. 3Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Learning and Department of Social Science and Health Policy, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, North Carolina, USA
  4. 4Department of Physics, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
  5. 5Department of Biology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
  6. 6Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, North Carolina, USA
  7. 7Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, North Carolina, USA
  8. 8Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Nancy L Jones, Strategic Planning and Evaluation Branch (SPEB), Office of Strategic Planning and Financial Management (OSPFM), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, DHHS, Building 31, 7A46F, MSC 2520, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA; jonesna{at}


A multidisciplinary faculty committee designed a curriculum to shape biomedical graduate students into researchers with a high commitment to professionalism and social responsibility and to provide students with tools to navigate complex, rapidly evolving academic and societal environments with a strong ethical commitment. The curriculum used problem-based learning (PBL), because it is active and learner-centred and focuses on skill and process development. Two courses were developed: Scientific Professionalism: Scientific Integrity addressed discipline-specific and broad professional norms and obligations for the ethical practice of science and responsible conduct of research (RCR). Scientific Professionalism: Bioethics and Social Responsibility focused on current ethical and bioethical issues within the scientific profession, and implications of research for society. Each small-group session examined case scenarios that included: (1) learning objectives for professional norms and obligations; (2) key ethical issues and philosophies within each topic area; (3) one or more of the RCR instructional areas; and (4) at least one type of moral reflection. Cases emphasised professional standards, obligations and underlying philosophies for the ethical practice of science, competing interests of stakeholders and oversight of science (internal and external). To our knowledge, this is the first use of a longitudinal, multi-semester PBL course to teach scientific integrity and professionalism. Both faculty and students endorsed the active learning approach for these topics, in contrast to a compliance-based approach that emphasises learning rules and regulations.

  • Bioethics
  • biomedical graduate education
  • education
  • education for healthcare professionals
  • education/programmes
  • ethics
  • problem-based learning
  • professional development
  • professional–professional relationship
  • research ethics
  • responsible conduct of research
  • scientific integrity
  • scientific research
  • social control of science/technology

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  • Funding This project was supported by NSF 0530023 from the National Science Foundation (JCE, principal investigator).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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