Ethics Education for Allied Health Students: An Evaluation of Student Performance

Article excerpt

We analyzed student performance in an interdisciplinary, Web-based course in health care ethics at a university-based school of allied health. Student performance was measured according to students' 1) degree status, 2) clinical hour requirement during the semester in which they took the ethics course, 3) total credit hours during the semester in which they took the ethics course, and 4) clinical and credit hours combined. Statistical analyses were performed to examine curricular and extracurricular predictors of student performance. Only the number of credit hours in which students were enrolled while taking the ethics course demonstrated a statistically significant difference in mean student performance, and this difference was only detected on the final examination and written assignments. When developing an ethics course for allied health students, course components such as conceptual difficulty, reading and writing assignments, and student workload may need to be adjusted according to students' curricular responsibilities. J Allied Health 2007; 36:77-80.

TO BE SUCCESSFUL in the clinic, allied health professionals must be more than simply technically proficient at their jobs. Rather, professionals must be able to engage in the deliberative process that enables them to identify, assess, and act on unanticipated challenges that develop in the clinical context. Some of these unanticipated challenges are likely to be ethical issues. Rarely will these dilemmas be resolved simply by appealing to law or institutional policy. Instead, allied health professionals must have the critical thinking skills necessary to allow them to think through an issue and act accordingly.

An effective ethics course will give the allied health professional these tools. Additionally, ethics education may soften the hard-science focus of professional education with a more qualitative approach.1 There is considerable debate in the literature regarding the most effective format of such courses,2"4 the degree to which the courses themselves lead to sustained behavioral change,5-7 and how ethics courses impact the moral reasoning of students.8-10

Varying academic backgrounds, levels of clinical experience, and other academic commitments posed challenges for the design of an interdisciplinary course.11 Our health care ethics course included students from six allied health programs, with a variety of academic and clinical backgrounds. Programs enrolled students at differing points in the curriculum; as a result, students differed regarding the number of credit and clinical hours in which they were enrolled during the semester in which they took the ethics course. Because these factors are relatively common to allied health education, we thought it would be helpful to explore our students' experience with this Web-based, interdisciplinary course. We report here the results from our analysis of student performance in an interdisciplinary, Web-based course in health care ethics at a universitybased school of allied health. This analysis assessed whether or not those variables affected student performance in the ethics course.

Methods

BACKGROUND

The health care ethics course was offered over four semesters for both one and two credits. The core content remained the same in order to meet the goal of having one standardized course for all students, and every semester included writing assignments and a final examination. The differences between one- and two-credit courses were exclusively in student assignments; students enrolled in the two-credit course were expected to complete a greater number of assignments. Each semester, unique online features, such as the discussion board and online chats, were utilized to different degrees, and minor adjustments were made based on course evaluations. Core content remained consistent throughout.

SAMPLE SIZE AND CHARACTERISTICS

Sixty-eight students participated in the course over the four semesters in which it was offered. …