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Am J Surg. 1999 Oct;178(4):351-5.

Assessing medical students' competence in obtaining informed consent.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque 87131, USA.



Medical schools increasingly place emphasis on preparing students to perform routine, ethically important clinical activities with sensitivity and acumen. A method for evaluating students' skills in obtaining informed consent that was created at our institution is described.


Formal assessment of medical students' professional attitudes, values, and ethics skills occurs in the context of three required and developmentally attuned comprehensive examinations. A videotaped station tested senior medical students' ability to obtain informed consent from a standardized patient who expresses concern about undergoing cardiac catheterization. Two checklists were completed by the patient. Videotapes were reviewed by a faculty member, and students' reactions to the assessment experience were documented.


Seventy-one senior students participated, and all performed well. Mean scores of 6.3 out of 7 (range 5 to 7, SD = 0.5) on the informed consent checklist and 8.7 out of 9 (range 6 to 9, SD = 0.5) on the communication skills checklist were obtained. Students endorsed the importance of the skills tested.


This method of examining medical students' abilities to obtain informed consent has several positive features and holds promise as an ethics competence assessment tool.

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