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October 21, 1983

Cynicism Among Medical Students

Author Affiliations

From the Humanities Program, East Carolina University, School of Medicine, Greenville, NC.

JAMA. 1983;250(15):2006-2010. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340150048025

The thesis that medical students become more cynical than students of other professions seems justified in light of psychological studies and reports from medical students. This article explores whether this might be due, in part, to disappointment about how important ideals are followed. Psychological tests themselves offer an opportunity to examine this, because the medical profession espouses the goals of gaining proper consent from all subjects, including students, and of giving appropriate attention to excellence of research design and method. When studies used to evaluate medical students' attitudes are viewed from this perspective, however, weaknesses on both scores seem apparent. Students seem well aware of some of these flaws. Although such testing is a small part of medical education, it confirms students' views that there is cause for disillusionment about how certain goals are realized. It also suggests a way to cure some students' cynicism. Students should be taught consistently, both by example as well as by precept of their profession's sincere commitment to professed goals. In practical terms this means, for example, that studies using students as subjects should have a proper review by the institutional review board, with adequate attention given to excellence of design, confidentiality, and methods of gaining informed and unpressured consent. Such studies could then serve as paradigms to students. Other goals of the profession should also be applied to students, and applied for students.

(JAMA 1983;250:2006-2010)