January 25, 2020
First things first: Relax. You don’t need to be an ethicist to get into medical school. You should however be familiar with the thought process in assessing and coming to a conclusion on an ethical dilemma, as well as be comfortable with the terminology used to describe your thinking.
A great place to start is the book Doing Right: a practical guide to ethics for medical trainees and physicians by Philip C. Hébert. I have no financial interest in this book and I’m sure there are other good ones, but this one was helpful for me. The book is very accessible, teaches concepts through case scenarios (some of which are bound to come up in medical school interviews), as well as introduces you to a common sense and principle-based approach to medical ethics. These principles, such as autonomy, confidentiality, truth telling, beneficence, and justice, will come up frequently and are a useful way to assess any ethical scenario. Get comfortable with these principles as you’ll see them again and again in medical school!
Follow The News And Other Resources
I think a great way to get engaged in medical ethics is to follow medico-legal issues in the news. It brings the issues alive and makes them more relevant in your own life. There are a number of medical journals and news sources that not only report on, but critically assess these types of issues. Check out the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canadian Bioethics Society and others.
Get Some Practice
Don’t just read a book on medical ethics or read about current medical ethics news, think about the cases and how you’d go about making a decision. I find this best to do aloud and with someone who can question you on your thought process. This can be challenging, but actually kind of fun. When practicing, always remember there are two or more sides to every situation. Try to divorce yourself from any personal bias and articulate these differing perspectives, apply the principles you learned from reading books such as ‘Doing Right’, and maybe mention a relevant case you read about in the news. Show that you have critically assessed all sides before concluding and, if you can’t decide, explain how you would gather the necessary information to make a conclusion. Will you consult with more experienced colleagues or a hospital ethics board? Think about these things.
Medical ethics doesn’t have to be a source of angst. You’re not expected to be an expert. Relax, stick to basic principles, read about some cases, practice a bit and consult with more experienced colleagues when in doubt. That’ll take you far.
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