Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of small-group ethics teaching in an integrated medical curriculum.
Design: A quasi-experimental, pre- and post-test, non-equivalent control group design.
Setting: University of Glasgow Medical School.
Subjects: 111 first-year students from Glasgow University's new learner-centred medical curriculum, with a control group of 51 students from the last year of the traditional curriculum.
Main outcome measure: Student answers consistent with consensus professional judgement on the ethical dilemmas posed by the vignettes of the Ethics and Health Care Survey Instrument.
Results: There was a significantly greater increase in the number of post-test consensus answers in the experimental group (P=0.0048): the odds ratio for obtaining the post-test consensus answer in the experimental group compared with the control group was 1.73 (95% confidence interval 1.28-2.33). Significant movement towards consensus occurred in the areas of autonomy, confidentiality and consent. Among controls there was a significant move away from consensus in the area of "whistle blowing" on colleagues (P=0.017).
Conclusion: Small-group ethics teaching, in an integrated medical curriculum, had a positive impact on the first-year students' potential ethical behaviour. It was more effective than a lecture and a large-group seminar-based course in developing students' normative identification with the profession of medicine.