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Ethics Education Learning Outcomes for Health Professions Students


The importance of graduating ethical health professionals is indisputable. Yet evaluating the quality of ethics education programs remains problematic for educators. A divide between learning and integrating ethics in everyday professional practice lies at the heart of this issue. The Ethics in Professional Practice (EPP) project addresses health professions' students’ self-efficacy for ethical practice. Students are cast as central characters in authentic vignettes and complete guided learning activities to facilitate their ethical reasoning skills. A design-based research approach was utilised to create EPP resources and this study focuses on the analysis phase of the design process. The aim was to investigate EPP learning outcomes by developing innovative measures based upon Kirkpatrick’s (2006) evaluation model: namely, reaction, learning, behaviour and effects. Health professions students from Exercise and Sports Science, Rehabilitation Counselling and Speech Pathology (n = 58) participated in the EPP. Qualitative content analysis of reflective statements demonstrated their ethical sensitivity in four categories: Expectations and Empathy in Quality Care; Managing Overwhelming Demands; Informed, Engaged and Empowered; Access to Flexible Models of Service Delivery. Findings from the Rehabilitation Counselling cohort (n = 16) were explored in-depth using Semantic Differential Scales and demonstrated positive ethical reasoning outcomes. Participants also developed individual, ethical practice goals for professional practica. Qualitative content analysis of these goals demonstrated clear ethical reasoning learning effects. Participants integrated concepts of becoming an ethical professional with effective communication, collaboration, empowerment and quality care. Study outcome measures are critiqued and findings may inform redesign of future ethics education resources.

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Availability of Data and Material

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

This project was approved by the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (2017/413).

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This project was funded by an Educational Innovation Grant (2017) from The University of Sydney. Funding from Western Sydney University supported data analysis and manuscript preparation. The authors wish to thank colleagues Laura Di Michele and Madelyn Nicole for their contributions to design features for this project, Laura Di Michele for additional support with independent coding and Hannah Huseyin for assistance with referencing. We sincerely thank the students who shared their learning experiences with the EPP.


The EPP Project was supported by a University of SydneyStrategic Education Innovation Grant. Western Sydney University supported data analysis and manuscript preparation for the research arm of the project.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by all authors. The first draft of the manuscript was written by the first author and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Belinda Kenny.

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Kenny, B., Jimenez, Y., Pollard, N. et al. Ethics Education Learning Outcomes for Health Professions Students. J Acad Ethics (2021).

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  • Ethics education
  • Health professions
  • Outcome measures