Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Seven ways to hone your ethics skills

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 08 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2911
  1. Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer, medical ethics and law, King’s College London, and practising barrister
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

In developing clinical technique, don’t neglect the “softer” skills such as ethics

As an amateur magician, whenever I find the time to practise I focus on technical sleights. In front of the mirror I repeat the same move again and again. I transfer a coin from one hand to the next, blow on the fist, and—boom—it vanishes. I wipe my hands together to show that the coin is gone. I repeat the process until it becomes second nature, or until boredom kicks in.

The problem is that, in my zeal to master the technique, I neglect the “softer” skills. I spend barely any time on words and gestures that should accompany the effect. As a result of my skewed emphasis, I am a technically proficient but average magician.

In medicine the temptation is also to focus on technique in the quest for self improvement. Junior doctors seek to add to their portfolio of procedures, and the “softer” ethical skills are given short shrift. Here are …

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