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BMC Med Ethics. 2017 Dec 8;18(1):73. doi: 10.1186/s12910-017-0229-2.

Must we remain blind to undergraduate medical ethics education in Africa? A cross-sectional study of Nigerian medical students.

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Department of Ophthalmology, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria.
Department of Physiology, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Enugu, Nigeria.
Department of Ophthalmology, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria.



As the practice of medicine inevitably raises both ethical and legal issues, it had been recommended since 1999 that medical ethics and human rights be taught at every medical school. Most Nigerian medical schools still lack a formal undergraduate medical ethics curriculum. Medical education remains largely focused on traditional medical science components, leaving the medical students to develop medical ethical decision-making skills and moral attitudes passively within institutions noted for relatively strong paternalistic traditions. In conducting a needs assessment for developing a curriculum germane to the Nigerian society, and by extension most of Sub-Saharan Africa, this study determined the views of Nigerian medical students on medical ethics education, ethical issues related to the doctor-patient relationship and the ethical/professional dilemmas they are confronted with.


Using self-administered 63-item structured questionnaires, a cross-sectional survey of the final year medical students of the University of Nigeria was conducted in July 2015.Using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software (SPSS Version 17), frequency counts and percentages were generated.


The sample included 100 males (71.4%) and 40 females (28.6%), with the respective mean (SD) age being 24.6(5.61) and 21.8 (6.38) years. Only 35.7% were satisfied with their medical ethics knowledge, and 97.9% indicated that medical ethics should be taught formally. Only 8.6% had never witnessed a medical teacher act unethically. The dilemmas of poor communication between physicians and patients, and the provision of sub-standard care were reported highest for being encountered 'often'. A majority (60.7%) indicated that "a doctor should do his best always, irrespective of the patient's wishes". No significant difference in responses across gender was noted.


There is a strong desire by the contemporary Nigerian medical student for medical ethics education. Their lack of exposure in medical ethics in an ethically challenging environment suggest a dire need for the development of an appropriate medical ethics curriculum for them and the provision of an ethically conducive learning environment.


Curriculum; Dilemma; Education; Medical ethics; Nigeria; Undergraduates

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