Teaching Professional Formation in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Acad Med. 2020 Oct;95(10):1488-1491. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003434.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of American Medical Colleges has called for a temporary suspension of clinical teaching activities for medical students. Planning for the continued involvement of learners in patient care during this pandemic should include teaching learners professional formation. The authors provide an ethical framework to guide such teaching, based on the ethical principle of beneficence and the professional virtues of courage and self-sacrifice from professional ethics in medicine. The authors show that these concepts support the conclusion that learners are ethically obligated to accept reasonable, but not unreasonable, risk. Based on this ethical framework, the authors provide an account of the process of teaching professional formation that medical educators and academic leaders should implement. Medical educators and academic leaders should embrace the opportunity that the COVID-19 pandemic presents for teaching professional formation. Learners should acquire the conceptual vocabulary of professional formation. Learners should recognize that risk of infection from patients is unavoidable. Learners should become aware of established ethical standards for professional responsibility during epidemics from the history of medicine. Learners should master understandable fear. Medical educators and academic leaders should ensure that didactic teaching of professional formation continues when it becomes justified to end learners' participation in the processes of patient care; topics should include the professionally responsible management of scarce medical resources. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be the last major infectious disease that puts learners at risk. Professional ethics in medicine provides powerful conceptual tools that can be used as an ethical framework to guide medical educators to teach learners, who will bear leadership responsibilities in responses to future pandemics, professional formation.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections
  • Education, Medical / ethics*
  • Ethics, Medical / education*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / ethics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral
  • Professionalism / education*
  • Professionalism / ethics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Schools, Medical
  • Societies, Medical