Education Steering Group

Education project

The IME Project on Teaching, Learning and Assessment of Medical Ethics and Law in UK Medical Schools

Project aims

The practice of good medicine inevitably raises both ethical and legal issues and demands an understanding of both. The General Medical Council (GMC) requires that medical ethics and law (MEL) be one of the core components of the medical curriculum.

Knowledge of basic medical sciences and the development of clinical and technical skills are necessary but not sufficient for Good Medical Practice. These must be balanced by, among other attributes, appropriate professional attitudes, moral awareness, the ability to reason ethically and an understanding of the relevant law.

As a result of an ongoing consultation process within the IME a core content of learning has been formulated, the updated version of which was published in 2010:

IME core content of learning (PDF file, 270 KB) pdf document

Education project: history

Emergence of the IME Project on teaching, learning and assessment of medical ethics and law in UK medical schools

In 1996 the Institute of Medical Ethics (IME) initiated a consultation process to produce a model core curriculum for teaching medical ethics and law (MEL) within medical education. This was published as a Consensus Statement in 1998.

In light of concerns that continued to be expressed about the teaching and learning of MEL, in 2005 the IME commissioned a survey ‘to characterise UK medical undergraduate medical ethics curricula and to identify opportunities and threats to teaching and learning’. The authors confirmed that significant concerns remained about the status, content, delivery and assessment of the teaching of ethics and law in medical schools.

As a result of these findings the Medical Education sub-group of the IME chaired by Professor Gordon Stirrat advocated and subsequently initiated a programme to develop and generalise good practice in the teaching, learning and assessment of medical ethics and law across the UK's by now 32 medical schools.

The project focuses on the medical undergraduate curriculum but is relevant to other healthcare professionals. The continuity between undergraduate and postgraduate medical education is acknowledged.

A hub and spoke model was proposed for the project. The hub is formed by the Steering Group and a Consultative Panel of major stakeholders in the field. The latter provides a forum for high level discussion and acts as a sounding board and driver for further development. The spokes are the medical schools themselves represented by the ethics lead for each school loosely formed with regional groupings for the project. The primary aim of the project is to promote the development of the learning, teaching and assessment of medical ethics and law in undergraduate education by:

  • Encouraging horizontal and vertical integration of these subjects within the curriculum and the use of a variety of teaching and learning methods.
  • Promoting the integration of theoretical and clinical ethics and law.
  • Identifying and disseminating good practice and encouraging cooperation between medical schools.

It should assist medical schools in meeting GMC recommendations about education in medical ethics and law. Among the priorities identified was the reassessment and updating of the core curriculum for medical ethics and law and that is in progress. Another was how to involve clinicians and bio-medical scientists more closely and in greater numbers including training programmes for them and other ‘non-expert’ teachers. This remains very much on the agenda.

Education project: steering group members