gms | German Medical Science

12th Graz Conference – Quality of Teaching

18.09. - 20.09.2008 in Graz, Österreich

Teaching Ethics at the Medical University Graz 2005-2008: A Critical Retrospect

Round Table/Runder Tisch

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12. Grazer Konferenz - Qualität der Lehre: Skills and Attitudes. Graz, Österreich, 18.-20.09.2008. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2009. Doc08grako15

doi: 10.3205/08grako15, urn:nbn:de:0183-08grako156

Received: January 15, 2009
Revised: February 5, 2009
Accepted: February 18, 2009
Published: April 6, 2009

© 2009 Rinofner-Kreisl.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.

Round Table Discussion/Diskussion am runden Tisch

There are two different kinds of difficulties we have met when teaching ethics at the medical university of Graz for the last four years. Although realizing these difficulties refers to our peculiar practices and experiences, we take it that these difficulties are not of a specifically individual, personal or local character. On the contrary, they seem to fundamentally impede ethical instruction elsewhere, too, given that nowadays medical curricula reflect a high-graded division of labour. This is the first issue we should direct our attention to, namely to understand the encompassing nature of the task. On the one hand, (this is what students often complain about) ethics seems to be an additional specialized skill to acquire. On the other hand, (and this is what experienced physicians and nurses often are able to appreciate) ethical instruction, if done well, encourages or helps to regain a different view of the whole matter, i.e. a different view of what medicine is or should be as part of our attempt to live a good life. If we consider ethics as a philosophical project it is obvious that it radically differs from other subjects students of medicine are usually concerned with. Pathology, anatomy or histology are positive “sciences of fact” whereas ethics, as we understand it, is a discursive science of reflection. Consequently, students of medicine, when faced with ethical issues, are expected to enter into an unfamiliar culture of science, including an unfamiliar culture of learning and teaching, e.g. writing seminar papers instead of doing multiple-choice exams. Secondly, there are also pragmatic issues which must not be ignored since they touch upon the standing of ethical instructions at a medical university, both with a view to a) administrative procedures and b) the medical staff.

a) Currently, the course “ethics in medicine” is part of a module called “Communication, Supervision and Reflexion”. This module provides, among others, psychological mentoring and support as well as a training of social skills. The importance of these issues is beyond dispute. However, integrating ethics in this module tends to produce unsatisfiable expectations. Although discussing ethical issues certainly differs from acquiring knowledge about pure matters of fact, ethical instruction cannot be reduced to mentoring.

b) Whether or not medical students appreciate being taught ethics to a great extent depends on how the regular teaching staff of the medical university responds to this idea.