Bringing ethics education to the clinical years: ward ethics sessions at the University of Washington

Acad Med. 2006 Jul;81(7):626-31. doi: 10.1097/01.ACM.0000232412.05024.43.


Purpose: Although most medical schools teach medical ethics during preclinical years, incorporating these ethics into clinical training remains challenging. During clinical rotations, students' professional behaviors and attitudes are profoundly affected. This project was intended to develop an educational intervention to incorporate medical ethics training as a part of students' professional development within the context of clinical training.

Method: "Ward Ethics" is a series of peer discussions guided by clinical faculty mentors trained in fostering issue identification and strategy development. The sessions described here were conducted during medicine and surgery rotations for third-year medical students at the University of Washington School of Medicine from 1998 to 2003. Thirty clinical faculty participated as facilitators. Written evaluations were collected from students and faculty at each session, and faculty interviews were conducted in 2001.

Results: The data reported are from 24 sessions and 15 faculty interviews from 1999 to 2001. The topics were consistent with prior reports of ethical issues that students encountered. Students reported a variety of learned strategies such as knowing how and when to speak up and transitioning from prioritizing evaluations to focusing on patient care, resulting in their feeling more confident. Faculty reported noticing positive results to their professional development as well.

Conclusions: Medical students in the clinical years face ethically challenging situations. Some circumstances, if left unexamined, may erode students' abilities to maintain and develop appropriate professional behaviors. Students participating in this activity agreed that it served as a way to fight isolation, share stories, and exchange ideas for future problem solving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers*
  • Clinical Clerkship*
  • Ethics, Medical / education*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Pilot Projects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Students, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Washington