Ethics and professionalism in medical physics: a survey of AAPM members

Med Phys. 2013 Apr;40(4):047001. doi: 10.1118/1.4797463.


Purpose: To assess current education, practices, attitudes, and perceptions pertaining to ethics and professionalism in medical physics.

Methods: A link to a web-based survey was distributed to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) e-mail membership list, with a follow-up e-mail sent two weeks later. The survey included questions about ethics/professionalism education, direct personal knowledge of ethically questionable practices in clinical care, research, education (teaching and mentoring), and professionalism, respondents' assessment of their ability to address ethical/professional dilemmas, and demographics. For analysis, reports of unethical or ethically questionable practices or behaviors by approximately 40% or more of respondents were classified as "frequent."

Results: Partial or complete responses were received from 18% (1394/7708) of AAPM members. Overall, 60% (827/1377) of the respondents stated that they had not received ethics/professionalism education during their medical physics training. Respondents currently in training were more likely to state that they received instruction in ethics/professionalism (80%, 127/159) versus respondents who were post-training (35%, 401/1159). Respondents' preferred method of instruction in ethics/professionalism was structured periodic discussions involving both faculty and students/trainees. More than 90% (1271/1384) supported continuing education in ethics/professionalism and 75% (1043/1386) stated they would attend ethics/professionalism sessions at professional/scientific meetings. In the research setting, reports about ethically questionable authorship assignment were frequent (approximately 40%) whereas incidents of ethically questionable practices about human subjects protections were quite infrequent (5%). In the clinical setting, there was frequent recollection of incidents regarding lack of training, resources and skills, and error/incident reporting. In the educational setting, incidents of unethical or ethically questionable practices were only frequently recollected with respect to mentorship/guidance. With respect to professional conduct, favoritism, hostile work/learning environment, and maltreatment of subordinates and colleagues were frequently reported. A significantly larger proportion of women reported experiences with hostile work/learning environments, favoritism, poor mentorship, unfairness in educational settings, and concerns about student privacy and confidentiality.

Conclusions: The survey found broad interest in ethics/professionalism topics and revealed that these topics were being integrated into the curriculum at many institutions. The incorporation of ethics and professionalism instruction into both graduate education and postgraduate training of medical physicists, and into their subsequent lifelong continuing education is important given the nontrivial number of medical physicists who had direct personal knowledge of unethical or ethically questionable incidents in clinical practice, research, education, and professionalism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Data Collection*
  • Educational Status*
  • Health Physics / education*
  • Health Physics / ethics*
  • Professional Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States