Purpose: To identify ethical dilemmas commonly encountered during pediatrics training as a step toward improving medical ethics curricula for residents.
Method: The authors identified seven recurring topics by reviewing the required case reports on ethical dilemmas experienced by students in the third-year pediatrics clerkship from June 1992 to June 1994 at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Based on the topics identified, the authors then surveyed pediatrics housestaff in 1993-94 regarding the frequency of encountering the topics, levels of comfort in addressing the topics, role models and resources, and perceived need for improved training.
Results: A total of 214 student essays were reviewed. Thirty-six of 50 residents responded to the survey. In the following list of the seven topics, percentages are given for students who reported the topic, for residents who encountered the topic "very frequently" or "sometimes," and for residents who felt "very comfortable" or "somewhat comfortable" addressing the topic: child abuse or neglect (students reported, 28%, residents encountered, 94%, residents felt comfortable, 86%); use of heroic measures to maintain a terminal patient (20%, 89%, 69%); patient confidentiality (19%, 81%, 92%); resource allocation (12%, 67%, 54%); surrogate decision making (7%, 69%, 75%); patient autonomy (4%, 86%, 69%); and disclosure of information (2%, 69%, 60%). Eighty percent of the residents felt they could not intervene when they disagreed with decisions; 69% felt their training had not prepared them to address ethical dilemmas; 69% thought attending physicians were interested in discussing ethical issues; and 74% desired more training.
Conclusion: Based on their self-reported experiences with topics identified as occurring frequently in pediatrics training, the residents perceived their training to be inadequate and desired more ethics education, but felt that the faculty were willing to assist in that training.