Using a virtue ethics lens to develop a socially accountable community placement programme for medical students

BMC Medical Education 19 (246) (2019)
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Abstract

Background: Community-based education (CBE) involves educating the head (cognitive), heart (affective), and the hand (practical) by utilizing tools that enable us to broaden and interrogate our value systems. This article reports on the use of virtue ethics (VE) theory for understanding the principles that create, maintain and sustain a socially accountable community placement programme for undergraduate medical students. Our research questions driving this secondary analysis were; what are the goods which are internal to the successful practice of CBE in medicine, and what are the virtues that are likely to promote and sustain them? Methods: We conducted a secondary theoretically informed thematic analysis of the primary data based on MacIntyre’s virtue ethics theory as the conceptual framework. Results: Virtue ethics is an ethical approach that emphasizes the role of character and virtue in shaping moral behavior; when individuals engage in practices (such as CBE), goods internal to those practices (such as a collaborative attitude) strengthen the practices themselves, but also augment those individuals’ virtues, and that of their community (such as empathy). We identified several goods that are internal to the practice of CBE and accompanying virtues as important for the development, implementation and sustainability of a socially accountable community placement programme. A service-oriented mind-set, a deep understanding of community needs, a transformed mind, and a collaborative approach emerged as goods internal to the practice of a socially accountable CBE. The virtues needed to sustain the identified internal goods included empathy and compassion, connectedness, accountability, engagement [sustained relationship], cooperation, perseverance, and willingness to be an agent of change. Conclusion: This study found that MacIntyre’s virtue ethics theory provided a useful theoretical lens for understanding the principles that create, maintain and sustain CBE practice.

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Dominic Griffiths
University of Witwatersrand

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