The chasm between knowing and choosing the ethical course of action. A survey of dental students in the Netherlands

Int Dent J. 2010 Oct;60(5):321-8.


The dental profession is gradually becoming more aware of the importance of practitioner competence in dental ethics and law. Indicative of that awareness is the explicit attention paid by ever more dental school curricula to these disciplines through courses and other dedicated learning activities. Concurrently there is also increasing professional concern about reports of illegal and unethical behaviour by dental students and practitioners. This paper discusses the results of a survey among first and fifth year students enrolled in the three Dutch dental schools, examining their ethical and legal knowledge and perceptions. Students were presented with five ethical and five legal case vignettes and asked which of three courses of actions is correct, as well as which of those courses they would undertake themselves. The study shows that the knowledge level of students in the area of health law increases between the first and fifth year but their knowledge of ethics decreases. Even more remarkable is the finding that large numbers of students are not consistent, that is, the way they plan to behave does not coincide with what they say is the morally correct way to behave.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Codes of Ethics
  • Dentist-Patient Relations / ethics
  • Dentists / ethics
  • Ethics, Dental / education*
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Dental
  • Morals
  • Netherlands
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Students, Dental*