Objectives: The purpose of this study is to assess the knowledge, attitudes and practices among medical students in relation to medical ethics and law. The results of the study will be a useful guide to tutors of medical students and curricula designers.
Methods: A thirty-item self-administered questionnaire about knowledge of law and ethics, and the role of an ethics committee in the healthcare system was devised, tested and distributed to all levels of students and staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados (a tertiary care teaching hospital) in 2003. The data from the completed questionnaires were entered into an SPSS database and analyzed using frequency and multiple cross-tabulation tables.
Results: Completed responses were obtained from 55 (96%) of the medical students. Medical students generally attested to the importance of ethical knowledge but felt that they knew little of the law. Students varied widely as regards the frequency with which they saw ethical or legal problems, with a quarter seeing them infrequently, but another quarter seeing them every day. They received their knowledge from multiple sources and particularly from lectures/seminars, and found case conferences the most helpful. Only a few students felt that text books had been helpful. Students were generally knowledgeable about most ethical issues, but many had uncertainties on how to deal with religious differences in treating patients, on the information to be given to relatives, and how violent patients should be treated.
Conclusions: The results of the study highlight that medical students felt an inadequacy of knowledge of law as it pertains to their chosen career. Since most of their knowledge of law was obtained from lectures, these should be reviewed and other avenues of tuition explored. The study also highlights the need to identify the minority of students who have problems with their ethical knowledge and to devise means whereby any deficiencies can be discussed and modified.