Developing an ethics curriculum for a family practice residency
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PURPOSE: To develop a curriculum in ethics in family practice by studying which ethical issues physicians believe to be important based on frequency of encounter, difficulty in managing the problem, and helpfulness of discussion; to examine whether there are any important differences between faculty and residents and between genders; and to determine the preferred format(s) for teaching these issues. METHOD: Between November 1991 and June 1992 a total of 475 questionnaires were mailed to all the family practice residents (first- and second-year), graduates in their first two years of practice, and the physician faculty of the Department of Family Medicine at the McGill University Faculty of Medicine. Overall, 319 usable questionnaires were returned, for a final response rate of 67%. The questionnaire asked respondents to evaluate 14 ethical dilemmas in order to determine the importance of teaching specific ethical issues as well as to determine the preferred format for teaching. Chi-square tests, analyses of variance, and Student's t-tests were used to test the significance of differences in responses. RESULTS: No consistent pattern of interrelationship was found among frequency of encounter and difficulty and helpfulness of discussion for most items. Overall, there was little difference in how faculty and residents, men and women, perceived the importance of these ethical issues. Women reported encountering ethical issues less frequently than men [F (14,285) = 1.82, p < .04], while at the same time finding them somewhat more difficult and more deserving of discussion. Small-group, case-oriented discussion appears to have been the favored teaching format regardless of the ethical dilemma. CONCLUSION: It is difficult to narrow down the content to be included in a curriculum in ethics in family practice. Frequency of encounter, difficulty in management, and helpfulness of discussion can all be argued to be important factors for consideration; they should all be considered separately or in combination for each teaching situation if time restrictions force a choice between topics.