Clerkship Ethics: Unique Ethical Challenges for Physicians-in-Training

HEC Forum 32 (2):99-109 (2020)
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Three ethical conflicts in particular are paradigmatic of what we define as “clerkship ethics.” First, a distinction that differentiates the clerkship student from the practicing physician involves the student’s principal role as a learner. The clerkship student must skillfully balance her commitment to her own education against her commitment to patient care in a fashion that may compromise patient care. While the practicing physician can often resolve the tension between these two goods when they come into conflict, the clerkship student is left with a more ambiguous set of choices. Second, evaluative scrutiny during clinical clerkships often forces medical students to balance doing what is morally fitting against the perceived expectations of the medical teams in which they work. Third and finally, a deeply entrenched culture of medical hierarchy presents a particular challenge to innovation and improvement in ethics education during the clerkship years. Students regard faculty as exemplars, but are not provided with the tools to assess when technical medical competence is not matched by moral competence; moreover, these faculty are unlikely to have experienced the ethics education in which students are asked to demonstrate mastery.



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