Introduction: This study sought to develop and evaluate a medical ethics curriculum designed specifically for surgical residents.
Methods: The learning needs of surgical residents relevant to ethics were determined by using a structured literature review and synthesis strategy. We identified 5 primary areas of importance for ethics education for surgical residents: withdrawing and withholding treatment, advance directives, do-not-resuscitate orders, informed consent, and communicating bad news. Learning objectives were developed, and teaching plans were designed for four 90-minute interactive teaching episodes on the basis of adult learning principles. We surveyed residents using a published survey instrument modified for surgery to identify residents' beliefs about the usefulness of ethics training, confidence in addressing ethical issues, and factual knowledge of ethics questions.
Results: Twenty surgical residents at a single institution completed the pretest and posttest close-ended surveys. Results showed that although 88% had formal ethics exposure in medical school, 93% considered ethics education at the resident level to be a "very important" or "important" topic. Residents' confidence in addressing ethical issues showed statistically significant improvement between pretest and posttest surveys for 13 of 23 items. There were no statistically significant linear relationships between postgraduate year of residency and the pretest confidence items or the number of correct responses on the pretest multiple-choice items.
Conclusions: Despite the prevalence of ethics education during medical school, surgical residents welcome formal instruction on numerous ethical issues pertinent to surgical practice. A focused curriculum can be developed that has a measurable impact on residents' confidence in addressing ethical issues.