Medical student Ethics England Northern Ireland Wales

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Medical students ethics tool kit introduction

Just embarking on your medical career?

This tool kit aims to give you:

  • a general introduction to common ethical problems you may encounter
  • practical ways of thinking about ethical problems to help solve issues which arise



Doctors want to help people. Medicine can provide them with extremely sophisticated ways of doing so. But doctors also encounter problems that medicine cannot solve on its own.

Technology has given us the ability to keep people in persistent vegetative states alive almost indefinitely. But technology is powerless to answer the question of whether we should keep them alive. Technology enables us to transfer and process enormous amounts of personal health information. Those commissioning health services want access to it; at times so do the police. But technology cannot tell us whether the police should have access to personal health records.

An elderly confused patient is refusing his medication. Should I give it to him covertly because I know it is good for him?  

Nor are these problems solely the product of technology. You are on an elective in a resource-poor country and on your own in a remote village. Should you attempt an emergency c-section that you have only seen performed once or should you leave the mother and baby to almost certain death?

To try and answer these questions we need to think about the underlying values engaged - not just about what we can do, but what is the right or the good thing to do. And for this we need to begin to think ethically.

Good judgement in these matters develops over the course of a professional lifetime and students and junior doctors have sources of excellent detailed guidance and the support of senior colleagues. This tool kit is not designed as a substitute. Nor does it seek to be comprehensive. Rather it aims to provide brief, easily accessible signposts to help you around the major areas of ethical concern. It also provides what we hope are a few intriguing hints as to how you can begin to think ethically for yourself.


How is the tool kit structured?

The tool kit is structured around a number of cards providing advice on different ethical issues including medical electives and working with senior colleagues as well as on more traditional topics such as consent and confidentiality.

It refers to any relevant legal provisions as these are a vital aspect of practical decision-making. This first edition of the tool kit is for medical students in England and Wales. If it proves popular future editions may be made available for students in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Start using the toolkit