• Vol. 40 No. 1, 4–18
  • 15 January 2011

Evaluating the Effects of an Integrated Medical Ethics Curriculum on First-year Students



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Introduction: An integrated biomedical ethics track was implemented as part of the new medical undergraduate curriculum at the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in academic year (AY) 2008/2009. This study analyses the effects of the new curriculum on first-year students’ knowledge, confidence and opinions in relation to the subject.

Materials and Methods: In a cohort-based quasi-experimental study, we administered a pre-course and post-course questionnaire to a group of first-year students in AY2008/2009 who underwent the new biomedical ethics curriculum. The same questionnaire was carried out with the first-year cohort of AY2007/2008, who had received only ad hoc teaching in biomedical ethics. The questionnaire focused on the students’ opinions on selected taught topics in biomedical ethics and law, and formal ethics education; their confidence in relation to specific clinical ethical competencies; and their knowledge of selected taught topics in the first-year syllabus.

Results: The experimental cohort acquired more knowledge and confidence. They rated more positively formal ethics teaching and assessment as a requirement of medical education. Attitudes were found to have been ‘professionalised’ within the experimental group, with significantly greater receptiveness towards ethical codes of the profession and the regulatory role of the Singapore Medical Council. They were found to be more conservative with respect to legislative changes in healthcare.

Conclusion: The pioneer biomedical ethics curriculum had significant effects on the ethical development of first-year medical students. Longitudinal research through further phases of the integrated curriculum is needed to identify learning issues that affect the consolidation of knowledge, confidence and attitudes in medical ethics, law and professionalism.

Knowledge and confidence, and positive or negative attitudes in relation to medical ethics, are affected by medical ethics education. Mainstreaming and formalising ethics education in the medical school curriculum increases knowledge and confidence, and creates positive attitudes towards ethics education.

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