Ethics Curriculum

This curriculum is designed to:

  • provide students with the conceptual tools that they will need to navigate the ethical issues that are commonly encountered in clinical practice
  • develop skills in critical reasoning and using the basic concepts of medical ethics
  • foster the habits of critical reflection and discussion about the ethical issues in clinical practice

The 4-yr plan is to build on the basic concepts by revisiting the central issues in the context of clinical practice through discussions tied to the clerkships and through 3rd- & 4th-yr case-based assignments that nurture and reinforce the basic skills.


I. Professional Responsibilities [ASM-1]

  • Student Responsibilities/ Professionalism (video)
  • Qualities of a Physician/Codes of Ethics
  • Should Patients Be Learning Tools? ("Spinal Tap" & “Corridor Rounds” videos)

II. Central Ethical & Legal Principles [ASM-1]

  • Duty to Provide Care (Trust & Fiduciary Responsibility)
  • Truth telling & Informed Consent for Treatment
  • Confidentiality & the Duty to Warn

III. Research Ethics [Epidemiology]

  • Ethical Dangers of Human Subject Research
  • The Importance of Research & the Development of New Therapies
  • The Common Rule: Requirements for the Ethical Conduct of Research


IV. Justice and Medicine [ASM-2]

  • Justice in Clinical Practice
  • The Right to Health Care
  • Allocation of Transplant Organs

V. The Nature and Value of Autonomy [ASM-2]

  • Concepts of Autonomy
  • Standards for Surrogate Decision Making
  • Refusal of Treatment & Justified Paternalism
  • Advance Directives & Proxies

VI. Clinical Moral Reasoning: A systematic approach to clinical ethics dilemmas [ASM-2]

Third and Fourth Years

In the third- and fourth-year clerkships students have medical ethics discussions (curriculum-driven, small group, case-based, assigned readings, co-taught by clinical and ethics faculty) on generic ethical issues that arise commonly or with special clarity in the clerkship. In the Obstetrics, Pediatrics, and Surgical clerkships, each student prepares an Ethics Project*, which consists of presenting a case and an article from the literature, and then leading a small group discussion of the case. In addition to aiming at comprehension and application of ethical concepts, these clerkship ethics sessions also focus on developing skills in clinical moral reasoning.

Clinical Clerkships

  • Critical Care -Family Meetings
  • Emergency Medicine - Confidentiality and Legal Responsibility
  • Family Practice -Adherence and Compliance
  • Geriatrics -Giving Bad News
  • Medicine -Responding to Families
  • Neurology -Disclosing a Diagnosis
  • Ob/Gyn-Reproductive Choice*
  • Pediatrics -Parental Discretion*
  • Psychiatry -Treatment over Objection and Confidentiality
  • Surgery -Identifying Ethical Issues*

* The Ob/Gyn, Pediatrics, and Surgery clerkship ethics sessions are built around Ethics Projects.

Contact Us

Karen Smalls
Tel: 212-241-6602
Fax: 212-241-5028
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