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Navigating Complex, Ethical Problems in Professional Life: a Guide to Teaching SMART Strategies for Decision-Making

Abstract

This article demonstrates how instructors of professionalism and ethics training programs can integrate a professional decision-making tool in training curricula. This tool can help trainees understand how to apply professional decision-making strategies to address the threats posed by a variety of psychological and environmental factors when they are faced with complex professional and ethical situations. We begin by highlighting key decision-making frameworks and discussing factors that may undermine the use of professional decision-making strategies. Then, drawing upon findings from past research, we present the “SMART” professional decision-making framework: seeking help, managing emotions, anticipating consequences, recognizing rules and context, and testing assumptions and motives. Next, we present a vignette that poses a complex ethical and professional challenge and illustrate how each professional decision-making strategy could or should be used by characters in the case. To conclude, we review a series of educational practices and pedagogical tools intended to help trainers facilitate trainee learning, retention, and application of “SMART” decision-making strategies.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank John Gibbs, John Chibnall, Raymond Tait, Michael Mumford, Shane Connelly, and Lynn Devenport for their insight and prior work that led to many of the ideas discussed in this manuscript.

Funding/Support

This paper was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1 TR002345). The development of the Professionalism and Integrity in Research Program (PI) was funded by a supplement to the Washington University Clinical and Translational Science award (UL1 TR000448). The U.S. Office of Research Integrity provided funding to conduct outcome assessment of the PI Program (ORIIR140007). The effort of ALA was supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute (K01HG008990).

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Correspondence to Tristan McIntosh.

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McIntosh, T., Antes, A.L. & DuBois, J.M. Navigating Complex, Ethical Problems in Professional Life: a Guide to Teaching SMART Strategies for Decision-Making. J Acad Ethics 19, 139–156 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-020-09369-y

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Keywords

  • Biases
  • Constraints
  • Ethics
  • Professional decision-making