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Acad Pathol. 2016 Jun 16;3:2374289516654712. doi: 10.1177/2374289516654712. eCollection 2016 Jan-Dec.

The Ethics of Ambiguity: Rethinking the Role and Importance of Uncertainty in Medical Education and Practice.

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Division of Clinical Pathology (Laboratory Medicine), Department of Pathology, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA.


Understanding and embracing uncertainty are critical for effective teacher-learner relationships as well as for shared decision-making in the physician-patient relationship. However, ambiguity has not been given serious consideration in either the undergraduate or graduate medical curricula or in the role it plays in patient-centered care. In this article, the author examines the ethics of ambiguity and argues for a pedagogy that includes education in the importance of, and tolerance of, ambiguity that is inherent in medical education and practice. Common threads running through the ethics of ambiguity are the virtue of respect, and the development of a culture of respect is required for the successful understanding and implementation of a pedagogy of ambiguity.


ambiguity; ethics; medical education; patient-centered care; professionalism; respect; uncertainty

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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