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Med Teach. 2001 Jul;23(4):371-377.

Biotechnology and ethics in medical education of the new millennium: physician roles and responsibilities.

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  • 1Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Although the medical education curriculum varies internationally, we suggest that it is desirable for medical educators to share a universal responsibility to prepare physicians to perform three distinct, yet interrelated professional roles. The first is that of a clinician who has the knowledge and technical skills to care for individual patients, as well as the public. The second role can be viewed as that of an educator, a teacher, or a consultant who has the interpersonal skills and personal qualities to teach, advise and counsel patients and the public about their health and illness, risk factors and healthy lifestyle. The third role is that of a resource manager to enable physicians to care for patients and serve the public not only by drawing on available material assets but also by prudent use of the resources for better serving the most number of people at the least expense without compromising the quality of care. The very nature of the medical profession also obligates medical educators through the world to sensitize medical students and physicians to the ethical responsibilities that are implicit to each of the three aforementioned roles. Although the basic ethical responsibilities of do no harm and confidentiality are universal, certain global changes, such as rapid advancements in biotechnology and resource allocation, are now reshaping medical ethics on every continent. Spawned by the rapid advances in the biomedical sciences, biotechnology is revolutionizing human reproduction, sustaining human life, cloning human beings, and mapping the entire human genetic terrain. These advances imply changes in medical education and formal preparation of physicians in performing their roles as clinicians, educators and resource managers. These biotechnological developments, coupled with the increasing cost of healthcare and maldistribution of resources worldwide, present unprecedented ethical-social challenges that need to be addressed in the education of the physician in the new millennium.

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