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Case-based seminars in medical ethics education: how medical students define and discuss moral problems
  1. Thomas M Donaldson1,
  2. Elizabeth Fistein1,
  3. Michael Dunn2
  1. 1General Practice Education Group, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mr Thomas M Donaldson, General Practice Education Group, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge, CB2 0SR, UK; tmd28{at}


Discussion of real cases encountered by medical students has been advocated as a component of medical ethics education. Suggested benefits include: a focus on the actual problems that medical students confront; active learner involvement; and facilitation of an exploration of the meaning of their own values in relation to professional behaviour. However, the approach may also carry risks: students may focus too narrowly on particular clinical topics or show a preference for discussing legal problems that may appear to have clearer solutions. Teaching may therefore omit areas generally considered to be important components of the curriculum. In this paper, the authors present an analysis of the moral problems raised by medical students in response to a request to describe ethically problematic cases they had encountered during two clinical attachments, for the purpose of educational discussion at case-based seminars. We discuss the problems raised and compare the content of the cases to the UK Consensus Statement on core content of learning. The authors also describe the approaches that the students used to undertake an initial analysis of the problems raised, and consider possible implications for the development of medical ethics education.

  • Applied and professional ethics
  • education for health care professionals

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

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