Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Teaching medical ethics: useful or useless?

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 08 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6415
  1. Daniel Sokol, medical ethicist and barrister
  1. 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. Sokol{at}

Including ethics in the medical curriculum sends an important message

Probably for the first time in history, UK trained doctors at all levels, and in all specialties, now receive formal ethics training at medical school. This raises an important but uncomfortable question for those who teach the subject: has it made any difference? If not, should we replace it with another course on pharmacology, clinical skills, or the interpretation of scans?

An “ethics” sceptic will point to the vast increase in numbers of complaints against doctors to the UK General Medical Council in the past 10 years and the growth of clinical negligence claims in that same period. More ethics, more complaints and law suits.

This sceptic may say that any improvement in “ethics” arises not from any teaching …

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