BMC Medical Ethics (Mar 2022)

Ethics education to support ethical competence learning in healthcare: an integrative systematic review

  • Henrik Andersson,
  • Anders Svensson,
  • Catharina Frank,
  • Andreas Rantala,
  • Mats Holmberg,
  • Anders Bremer

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23, no. 1
pp. 1 – 26


Read online

Abstract Background Ethical problems in everyday healthcare work emerge for many reasons and constitute threats to ethical values. If these threats are not managed appropriately, there is a risk that the patient may be inflicted with moral harm or injury, while healthcare professionals are at risk of feeling moral distress. Therefore, it is essential to support the learning and development of ethical competencies among healthcare professionals and students. The aim of this study was to explore the available literature regarding ethics education that promotes ethical competence learning for healthcare professionals and students undergoing training in healthcare professions. Methods In this integrative systematic review, literature was searched within the PubMed, CINAHL, and PsycInfo databases using the search terms ‘health personnel’, ‘students’, ‘ethics’, ‘moral’, ‘simulation’, and ‘teaching’. In total, 40 articles were selected for review. These articles included professionals from various healthcare professions and students who trained in these professions as subjects. The articles described participation in various forms of ethics education. Data were extracted and synthesised using thematic analysis. Results The review identified the need for support to make ethical competence learning possible, which in the long run was considered to promote the ability to manage ethical problems. Ethical competence learning was found to be helpful to healthcare professionals and students in drawing attention to ethical problems that they were not previously aware of. Dealing with ethical problems is primarily about reasoning about what is right and in the patient’s best interests, along with making decisions about what needs to be done in a specific situation. Conclusions The review identified different designs and course content for ethics education to support ethical competence learning. The findings could be used to develop healthcare professionals’ and students’ readiness and capabilities to recognise as well as to respond appropriately to ethically problematic work situations.