Talking About Ethical Issues in Surgery—Results of a Novel Online Pilot Curriculum

Michael F. Amendola, Gundula Bosch, Brian Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: Surgical ethics has been suggested as a distinct field of study apart from clinical ethics due to a unique practice type and treatment dynamic. At our institution, most if not all teaching of clinical ethics is undertaken by nonsurgical faculty. We introduced a novel online Surgical Ethics Program (SEO) in a pilot form (SEO-P) for initial presentation to learners in our environment. The overall goal of our educational intervention was to enhance knowledge, understanding and appreciation for surgical ethics in medical students and to evaluate our curriculum. Setting: SEO-P was undertaken over a 4-week period in 2018 with 9 fourth-year medical students enrolled in a surgery elective at our institution. These learners all had career plans in general surgery or a surgical subspecialty. There was 3 weeks of content: (1) background in clinical ethics as it applies to surgical practice, (2) surgical consents and autonomy, and (3) the impaired physician. All pilot learners were evaluated with: (1) postprogram final exam assessment (compared to preprogram knowledge base test), (2) self-reflection essay of ethical practice in surgery, (3) evaluation of 2 case studies, and (4) an assessment of participation in online discussion forums. Postprogram survey of the learners was also undertaken in an anonymous fashion. Results: Four of 9 or 44.4% of students scored greater than or equal to 80% on the postprogram knowledge assessment test. A preprogram knowledge-based examination of all learners yielded a mean and standard deviation of 57.1 ± 6.0%. Postprogram knowledge-based test with mean and standard deviation was 78.8 ± 15%. This was a statistically significant increase in scores (p = 0.004; t test). All 9 passed the course with a mean final summative course grade of 95.2 ± 3.2%. From the postprogram evaluation survey, all 7 students who responded felt that the SEO-P would help them become an “ethical” practitioner. Surprisingly, only half of the learners (57.1%) thought “technology used to support the SEO Course (i.e., the chosen curriculum management system) was effective in conducting the course.” Conclusions: We set forth to use “web-based” technology to enhance exposure of medical students in our institution to surgical ethics. Hence, we designed our pilot curriculum to be a completely online offering. We feel that the utilization of the surgical voice, that is a surgical ethics curriculum developed by surgeons to explore surgically related clinical ethical issues, is an essential theme and goal of our program. Future challenges will be to present this voice in an effective manner with either an improved curriculum delivery system or by potentially utilizing a blended approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1562-1568
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of surgical education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Interpersonal and Communication Skills
  • Medical Knowledge
  • Professionalism
  • clinical ethics
  • curriculum development
  • online education
  • surgical ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Education


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