Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Medical Ethics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Western medical ethics taught to junior medical students can cross cultural and linguistic boundaries

Valmae A Ypinazar1 and Stephen A Margolis2*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Education, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, 4810, Australia

2 Department of General Practice, Monash University, 867 Centre Road, East Bentleigh, Victoria, 3165, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Ethics 2004, 5:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-5-4

Published: 30 July 2004

Abstract

Background

Little is known about teaching medical ethics across cultural and linguistic boundaries. This study examined two successive cohorts of first year medical students in a six year undergraduate MBBS program.

Methods

The objective was to investigate whether Arabic speaking students studying medicine in an Arabic country would be able to correctly identify some of the principles of Western medical ethical reasoning. This cohort study was conducted on first year students in a six-year undergraduate program studying medicine in English, their second language at a medical school in the Arabian Gulf. The ethics teaching was based on the four-principle approach (autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance and justice) and delivered by a non-Muslim native English speaker with no knowledge of the Arabic language. Although the course was respectful of Arabic culture and tradition, the content excluded an analysis of Islamic medical ethics and focused on Western ethical reasoning. Following two 45-minute interactive seminars, students in groups of 3 or 4 visited a primary health care centre for one morning, sitting in with an attending physician seeing his or her patients in Arabic. Each student submitted a personal report for summative assessment detailing the ethical issues they had observed.

Results

All 62 students enrolled in these courses participated. Each student acting independently was able to correctly identify a median number of 4 different medical ethical issues (range 2–9) and correctly identify and label accurately a median of 2 different medical ethical issues (range 2–7) There were no significant correlations between their English language skills or general academic ability and the number or accuracy of ethical issues identified.

Conclusions

This study has demonstrated that these students could identify medical ethical issues based on Western constructs, despite learning in English, their second language, being in the third week of their medical school experience and with minimal instruction. This result was independent of their academic and English language skills suggesting that ethical principles as espoused in the four principal approach may be common to the students' Islamic religious beliefs, allowing them to access complex medical ethical reasoning skills at an early stage in the medical curriculum.