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J Med Philos. 1991 Feb;16(1):93-112.

Teaching clinical ethics in the residency years: preparing competent professionals.

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Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, MA.


Formal training in clinical ethics must become a central part of residency curricula to prepare practitioners to manage the ethical dimensions of patient care. Residency educators must ground their teaching in an understanding of the conceptual, biomedical, and psychosocial aspects of the important ethical issues that arise in that field of practice. Four aspects of professional competence in clinical ethics provide a useful framework for curricular planning. The physician should learn to: (1) recognize ethical issues as they arise in clinical care and identify hidden values and unacknowledged conflicts; (2) think clearly and critically about these issues in ways that lead to ethically justifiable courses of action; (3) apply those practical skills needed to implement an ethically justifiably course of action; and (4) judge when the management of a clinical situation requires consultation with individuals or institutional bodies with additional expertise or authority. We argue that these practical goals can be accomplished with a relatively modest emphasis on the theoretical aspects of medical ethics.

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