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Ethical Dilemmas in Clerkship Rotations

Myers, Michael F. MD; Herb, Alice JD, LLM

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182a7f919

A sound clinical education should include the opportunity for medical students to engage in a spirited and informed discussion with faculty about the ethical challenges they will undoubtedly face. Unfortunately, in many medical schools today this goal is thwarted by many factors, including denial that a problem exists, relentless system overload, unprofessional behavior, breakdown in communication, and inertia. What is worse is that this problem is not new, and the fallout is not insignificant. Another potential contributing factor is burnout, which is well documented in a high percentage of medical students, residents, and faculty, and two of its most serious consequences are patient dissatisfaction and medical error.

The authors draw on hundreds of student reflections on ethical dilemmas submitted during classroom exercises to examine persistent themes. They posit that classroom and didactic teaching is not enough to enable students to face ethical dilemmas. The authors call for a major culture change in medical education: “buy in” from top administration, especially the dean (and associate/assistant deans), chairs of all departments, and clerkship and residency training directors; the appointing of an ombudsperson and/or ethicist to oversee and resolve issues as they arise; instructional workshops and materials to enhance and impart skills for all teachers; remediation or retiring of errant faculty; and ongoing research and dialogue between and among medical centers about novel solutions.

Author Information

Dr. Myers is professor of clinical psychiatry, immediate past vice chair of education, and program director, Department of Psychiatry, and medical student ombudsman, SUNY Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine, Brooklyn, New York.

Ms. Herb is clinical professor, Departments of OB/GYN and Family Practice, SUNY Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine, Brooklyn, New York.

Funding/Support: None.

Other disclosures: None.

Ethical approval: Not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Ms. Herb, 86 W. 12th St., New York, NY 10011; telephone: (212) 243-6662; e-mail:

© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges