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J Surg Educ. 2012 Nov-Dec;69(6):780-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2012.04.014. Epub 2012 May 23.

Proficiency of surgical faculty and residents with ethical dilemmas: is modeling enough?

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Department of Surgery, University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FL 32209, USA.



Professionalism, an Accreditation Commission for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) competency, embraces the concept of adherence to ethical principles. Despite this, most surgical residencies do not currently include ethics as part of their core curriculum. Further, expertise in effectively managing ethical dilemmas is frequently obtained via modeling after the attending physician. This study evaluated surgical faculty (SF) and residents (SR) on their understanding of basic ethical principles and their overall confidence in translation of these principles into clinical practice. The objective was to determine if there are any differences in the overall levels of knowledge and confidence in ethics between SR and SF.


Immediately before the first session of a Kamangar Grant supported monthly Ethics Forum, all SF and SR completed a Pre-Curriculum Questionnaire (PCQ) on their knowledge about ethical principles and their confidence in dealing with ethical issues. PQC contained 13 multiple-choice and true/false knowledge questions and 8 questions evaluating confidence rated on a 5-point Likert scale.


Surgical faculty (SF) (n = 16) and SR (n = 36). Knowledge and confidence scores were compared between SR and SF, using Student t-test analysis to evaluate differences between groups.


No significant differences were found in ethical knowledge scores between faculty and residents. Faculty confidence is higher than resident (p < 0.05). Further, female faculty confidence is higher than that of their male counterparts (p < 0.05).


While SF are more confident in their ethical decision-making, their fundamental knowledge base in ethics is not different from that of SR. Female SF report greater self-confidence over their male counterparts. In total, SF may not possess the foundation to effectively mentor residents in appropriate ethical principles and their translation to clinical practice. This study supports the need for both SR and SF to engage in an integrated education program in ethics to promote on-going dialogue in this complex topic.

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