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Television viewing habits of pre-clinical UK medical undergraduates: Further potential implications for bioethics

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Background: Medical television programs are popular among medical students. It is believed that these programs contribute to the hidden medical curriculum, which can influence the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of bioethical issues. However, the context of such programs is also an important consideration as they often portray health care contexts that are incongruent with the health system in which the students are being trained and raise specific bioethical issues. Methods: Preclinical medical undergraduates at a UK medical school completed a cross-sectional survey. The survey involved a partial replication of the study by Czarny et al. (2008); United Kingdom-based medical television programs were added to explore viewing habits and impressions of bioethical issues depicted in such programs. Results: Three hundred and thirty-seven (211 women; 126 men) preclinical medical undergraduates completed the survey. All respondents watched medical TV programs, with the four most popular being United States-based. A sizeable proportion of the participants viewed the medical programs in the company of others. Moreover, half of participants reported discussing ethical issues depicted in the medical television programs with others. The top three reported sources of bioethics information were medical school, family, and scholarly articles. There were, however, few differences in gender, year of study, first language, and nationality with respect to each questionnaire item. Conclusions: The study demonstrates the ubiquity with which medical TV programs are viewed by a sample of United Kingdom-based medical students. The popularity of these often unrealistic programs and the widespread viewing of United States-based medical television programs by the United Kingdom-based sample raise issues for bioethics education in the United Kingdom through the contribution to the hidden curriculum. In order to ensure the values of the formal curriculum and bioethics education are reinforced, it will be necessary to first acknowledge the role of the hidden curriculum and then understand the contribution made by medical television programs and their influence on medical students.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-67
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics: Empirical Bioethics
Issue number2
Early online date26 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2014

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