Objectives: To characterise UK undergraduate medical ethics curricula and to identify opportunities and threats to teaching and learning.
Design: Postal questionnaire survey of UK medical schools enquiring about teaching and assessment, including future perspectives.
Participants: The lead for teaching and learning at each medical school was invited to complete a questionnaire.
Results: Completed responses were received from 22/28 schools (79%). Seventeen respondents deemed their aims for ethics teaching to be successful. Twenty felt ethics should be learnt throughout the course and 13 said ethics teaching and learning should be fully integrated horizontally. Twenty felt variety in assessment was important and three tools was the preferred number. A shortfall in ethics core competencies did not preclude graduation in 15 schools. The most successful aspects of courses were perceived to be their integrated nature and the small group teaching; weaknesses were described as a need for still greater integration and the heavily theoretical aspects of ethics. The major concerns about how ethics would be taught in the future related to staffing and staff development.
Conclusions: This study describes how ethics was taught and assessed in 2004. The findings show that, although ethics now has an accepted place in the curriculum, more can be done to ensure that the recommended content is taught and assessed optimally.