Think once about how to develop a research ethics curriculum and twice about how to teach it!

I work in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, in one of the largest universities in Upper Egypt. Since our department is dedicated to teaching the principles of ethics in scientific research in my college,  I meet colleagues, students, and researchers who have questions about the ethical issues of their research almost daily. I noticed that many researchers do not have sufficient knowledge about ethical principles in research. Hence, mistakes are made, not deliberately, but from a lack of knowledge. As a result, some research proposals are deferred by the Research Ethics Committee. This creates lot of wasted time and efforts that could have been avoided with prior knowledge of basic research ethics.

This problem seems to be the result of not teaching the ethcis of scientific research satisfactorily to medical students at the stages of their undergraduate studies as well as during postgraduate studies. How can we correct this situation?

Over the last few years, scientific research has experienced rapid developments and has received much support at my institution. Great attention has been paid at building the research capacity of students and faculty. The goal has been to enhance accountability to the public and to foster research integrity. However, such efforts still needs additional modifications to be effective. One important step is to develop a curriculum based on the principles of research ethics and an even more important step is to develop effective methods to teach the curriculum to the undergraduates and post-doctoral students. Such methods should incorporate active learning techniques and hence, be case-based and incorporate discussions, analysis and evaluation.

The aim of teaching should be to transmit factual and conceptual knowledge to help the learners deal with complex ethical issues. Furthermore, it should also equip them with competencies that enable them to analyze, critique, and judge ethical issues.

During my participation in recent MERETI 2017 summer program, the instructors provided an effective model to teach research ethics. It was based on enlightening us with case scenarios that highlighted several ethical issues, and then encouraging us to navigate inherent ethical tensions. At first glance, the issues seemed clear and straightforward, but further scrutiny and analyzis of the cases unearthed several ethical dilemmas. Each time, I realized that making an ethical decision is not that easy, even with apparently easy cases; many times, it is challenging.  I think that this model is suitable for those who intend to teach research ethics in courses, at workshops, and at scientific meetings. It is easy to create educational content on research ethics, but additional efforts are needed to teach it in an interesting, engaging, and effective manner.

Zeinab Mohammed
Assistant lecturer of Public health and Community Medicine , School of Medicine, Beni Suef University, Egypt

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