Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

What to tell junior doctors about ethics

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 12 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2489
  1. Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics, Imperial College London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

    How do you whet the ethical curiosity of junior doctors and provide them with a deeper appreciation of the pervasiveness of medical ethics?

    Tomorrow I must give a talk to junior doctors. The title was imposed on me: “Essential ethics and law for the junior doctor.” This may be the only hour they have on the subject in the entire year. What should be included in that hour?

    Consent is an obvious, unexciting choice. It is still the case that some junior doctors are asked to obtain consent for unfamiliar procedures; and, although some politely decline to do so, others do not want to make a fuss and acquiesce. And what of the patient who simply says, “I don’t want to know—just do what’s best, doctor”? Heaven also knows that some surgical patients are “consented” on the morning of the operation and have little idea of what awaits them. On the trolley heading for the operating theatre, one patient at a colleague’s hospital told the porter that she was relieved at finally having the operation as she was looking forward to starting a family. She was about to undergo a hysterectomy. The porter called the medical team, and …

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