November 27, 1996

Teaching of Human Rights in US Medical Schools

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Family Practice, University of Michigan Medical School (Drs Sonis and Gorenflo), and the University of Michigan Medical School (Mss Jha and Williams), Ann Arbor.

JAMA. 1996;276(20):1676-1678. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540200062033

Objective.  —To determine the extent to which human rights issues are included in required bioethics curricula in US medical schools and to identify medical school characteristics associated with the extent of human rights issues covered.

Design.  —Cross-sectional survey.

Participants.  —Bioethics course directors and bioethics section directors of 125 US medical schools.

Main Outcome Measure.  —The extent of human rights teaching at each school was measured as the percentage of 16 human rights issues.

Results.  —Course directors at 113 (90%) of the 125 US medical schools responded to the survey. Medical schools included about half (45%; 95% confidence interval, 41%-49%) of 16 human rights issues in their required bioethics curricula. Domestic human rights issues, such as discrimination in the provision of health care to minorities (82% of medical schools), were covered much more frequently than international human rights issues, such as physician participation in torture (17% of schools). Public medical schools included substantially fewer human rights issues than private medical schools (F[1,112]=7.7; P<.01).

Conclusions.  —Required courses in medical education do not adequately address the medical aspects of human rights issues, especially international issues.