Resources for Dermatoethics Training
The best starting point for developing a robust dermatoethics curriculum is the material provided by the American Board of Dermatology, which is available online.7 An ad hoc subcommittee of the American Board of Dermatology composed of experts in dermatoethics and resident education reviewed relevant ethics literature and identified 6 core domains considered fundamental to dermatology resident education in ethics and professionalism.8 This team also provided a thorough list of relevant background readings for each topic. To cover pertinent material, the subcommittee recommended a 60-minute teaching session every other month with the intent of covering all the material over a 3-year period. If your program directors are not aware of this great resource and you feel your own ethics training may be lacking, bringing this up as a template might be helpful. A detailed description of an innovative dermatoethics curriculum organized at the Department of Dermatology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) in 2001 also may serve as a guide for programs hoping to design their own approach.5
For those interested in self-study, there is an excellent text dedicated to dermatoethics, which is aptly entitled Dermatoethics: Contemporary Ethics and Professionalism in Dermatology.9 This book offers superb case-based discussions on a wide range of ethical quandaries that dermatologists may face, ranging from unsolicited dermatologic advice (eg, Is it wrong to tell the person next to you in the grocery store that they might have a melanoma?) to research and publication ethics. This text provides a toolkit for handling tough situations in the clinic and beyond. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology publishes an Ethics Journal Club for which contributors can submit real-life practical ethical dilemmas, and the journal solicits a resolution or response from a dermatoethicist.
Additionally, a pilot curriculum project out of the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah), of which I am a team member, currently is designing and testing several dermatoethics PowerPoint modules with the intention of making this material widely available through medical education portals.
The Hidden Curriculum
A formal curriculum can only provide so much when it comes to ethics training. In truth, much of what we learn as ethically minded dermatologists comes from our day-to-day practice.10 Paying attention to the more informal curriculum that we are immersed in during routine as well as unusual encounters also is important for achieving milestones. Teaching moments for thinking through ethical dilemmas abound, and this approach easily can be incorporated into routine workflow.11 Next time you encounter an ethical situation that gives you pause (eg, Can I biopsy an intubated patient without getting appropriate consent?), talk it through with your supervisor. Gems of autonomous practice often can be mined from these off-the-cuff conversations.
Can Professionalism Be Taught?
Finally, it is worth mentioning that while the number of resources available to dermatology residents for honing their ethics skills is increasing, ways of measuring the impact of this additional training in vivo are not.12 There are no good tools available to determine how ethics training influences resident behaviors. Similarly, there is no good evidence for what constitutes the most effective method for teaching medical ethics to trainees. It is a growing field with lots of room for more robust research. For now, the overall goal of a dermatoethics curriculum is to provide a mix of curriculum opportunities, ranging from formal lectures and readings to more informal conversations, with the hope of providing residents a toolbox for dealing with ethical dilemmas and a working knowledge of professionalism.
There are several resources available for dermatology programs to provide quality dermatoethics training to their residents. These can be mixed and matched to create a tailored formal curriculum alongside the more informal ethics training that happens in the clinic and on the wards. Providing this education is about more than just fulfilling accreditation requirements. Understanding ethical principles and how they can be applied to navigate sensitive situations is ultimately good for both professional and personal well-being.