The effect of teaching medical ethics on medical students' moral reasoning

Acad Med. 1989 Dec;64(12):755-9. doi: 10.1097/00001888-198912000-00014.


A study assessed the effect of incorporating medical ethics into the medical curriculum and the relative effects of two methods of implementing that curriculum, namely, lecture and case-study discussions. Results indicate a statistically significant increase (p less than or equal to .0001) in the level of moral reasoning of students exposed to the medical ethics course, regardless of format. Moreover, the unadjusted posttest scores indicated that the case-study method was significantly (p less than or equal to .03) more effective than the lecture method in increasing students' level of moral reasoning. When adjustment were made for the pretest scores, however, this difference was not statistically significant (p less than or equal to .18). Regression analysis by linear panel techniques revealed that age, gender, undergraduate grade-point average, and scores on the Medical College Admission Test were not related to the changes in moral-reasoning scores. All of the variance that could be explained was due to the students' being in one of the two experimental groups. In comparison with the control group, the change associated with each experimental format was statistically significant (lecture, p less than or equal to .004; case study, p less than or equal to .0001). Various explanations for these findings and their implications are given.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Control Groups
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Mental Processes*
  • Moral Development*
  • Morals*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching / methods