The objective of this paper was to investigate what kind of postgraduate education in medical ethics medical residents in Japan receive and what they want for ethical education and guidelines. Sixteen teaching hospitals that provide a general internal medicine residency programme in Japan were used (145 medical residents working at the departments of general internal medicine). A total of 114 residents participated in our survey, yielding a response rate of 79%. Of these, 28% received education in medical ethics more than once a month; 24% were offered it only when ethical problems were involved in actual patient care; and 18% answered that opportunities were very rare and sporadic. A full 30% had received no education in medical ethics at all. Many residents (71%) learned medical ethics from individual supervising doctors. A majority of the residents had been taught about informed consent (79%) and doctor-patient relationships (54%); 46% had learned about the appropriateness of truth telling and of ethical decisions regarding withholding and withdrawing a life-sustaining treatment, respectively. A total of 85 residents (75%) wanted to have more comprehensive education in medical ethics, 13% could not decide, and 12% did not want it. Many (66%) thought that both doctors and ethical philosophers should jointly teach medical ethics in postgraduate residency programmes. The results suggest that many residents desire more comprehensive and interdisciplinary education in medical ethics and educators in Japan should aim to develop education programmes to meet these desires.
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