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J Dent Educ. 2011 Oct;75(10):1295-309.

The status of ethics teaching and learning in U.S. dental schools.

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School of Dentistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1078, USA.


The purpose of this study was to gather and analyze information about the status of ethics teaching and learning in U.S. dental schools and to recommend a curriculum development and research agenda for professional ethics in dental education. A survey to collect this information was developed by the authors and administered by the American Society for Dental Ethics. The results suggest that dental schools have adopted many of the recommendations for curricular content and learning strategies proposed in the 1989 American Association of Dental Schools (now American Dental Education Association) Curriculum Guidelines on Ethics and Professionalism in Dentistry. The survey was sent to the individual who directs the ethics curriculum at the fifty-six U.S. dental schools that had a full complement of enrolled predoctoral classes as of January 2008. All fifty-six schools responded to the survey. The data suggest that, in general, little time is devoted to ethics instruction in the formal curriculum. The mean number of contact hours of ethics instruction is 26.5 hours, which represents about 0.5 percent of the mean clock hours of instruction for dental education programs reported in the most recent American Dental Association survey of dental education. While the amount of time devoted to ethics instruction appears not to have changed much over the past thirty years, what has changed are what qualifies as ethics instruction, the pedagogies used, and the development and availability of norm-referenced learning outcomes assessments, which are currently used by a number of schools. We found that dental schools address a substantial list of topics in their ethics instruction and that there is general agreement as to the appropriateness of the topics and the ethics competencies that need to be developed and assessed. This study also identified the respondents' perceptions of unmet needs in ethics education. Four general themes emerged: the need for ethics to be more fully integrated across the curriculum, including carryover into the clinical years; the need to assess and ensure competence; the need for faculty development; and the need for more attention to method of instruction. Recommendations based on the study findings are offered for a curriculum development and research agenda for professional ethics in dental education.

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