The inadequacy of role models for educating medical students in ethics with some reflections on virtue theory

Persons concerned with medical education sometimes argued that medical students need no formal education in ethics. They contended that if admissions were restricted to persons of good character and those students were exposed to good role models, the ethics of medicine would take care of itself. However, no one seems to give much philosophic attention to the ideas of model or role model. In this essay, I undertake such an analysis and add an analysis of role. I show the weakness in relying on role models exclusively and draw implications from these for appeals to virtue theory. Furthermore, I indicate some of the problems about how virtue theory is invoked as the ethical theory that would most closely be associated to the role model rhetoric and consider some of the problems with virtue theory. Although Socrates was interested in the character of the (young) persons with whom he spoke, Socratic education is much more than what role modeling and virtue theory endorse. It -- that is, philosophy -- is invaluable for ethics education.
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