What’s the issue? Redesigning an ethics seminar to foster an inclusive and relational learning environment for medical students

Dr Cynthia Forlini1, Dr Jacqueline Savard1

1Deakin University, Geelong, Australia

Discussion and dialogue are regarded as the gold standard in teaching ethics because students can apply ethical theory to concrete scenarios creating a rich and participatory learning activity. Discussion is a key feature of the ethics, law and professionalism (ELP) curriculum within the Deakin University MD, which incorporates a series of small group case discussions (i.e. seminars) throughout the preclinical years (Years 1 and 2). However, the effectiveness of this approach is limited by whether the students feel engaged and represented. Shifting the ELP seminars to the digital space in 2020 inspired a redesign of their delivery to ensure the learning activity (1) engages students in the new format, (2) identifies the common points of need in learning ethics, and (3) honours the diversity of the student cohort and their future medical practice. We propose two major changes for ELP seminar delivery. The first introduces an “Ethics, Law, and Professionalism Seminar Discussion Framework”. The framework offers step-wise questions to guide discussions of the seminar cases. It provides a consistent and relational approach to the preclinical students’ greatest point of need: identifying and explaining an ELP issue in a given clinical context. The second is an extension of the live seminars into an assessment task, which requires students to design a case incorporating an ELP issue that can be discussed by future cohorts in their preclinical ELP seminars. Together these innovations integrate the learning milestones from the seminars adding an opportunity to enhance learning and understanding of ethically conscious medical practice.


Dr Cynthia Forlini is Lecturer in Health Ethics and Professionalism in the School of Medicine (Faculty of Health) at Deakin University. Her research explores the neuroethical issues that arise as we redefine the boundaries between treatment, maintenance, and enhancement of cognitive performance.

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