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Teaching Ethics in Schools of Public Health


Thomas, James C. (2003). Teaching Ethics in Schools of Public Health. Public Health Reports, 118(3), 279-286. PMCID: PMC1497543


Should ethics be taught in schools of public health? In some ways this question was answered by the recently enacted requirement that anyone on a research grant from the public health service document that they have obtained training in compliance with ethical standards and procedures for research. This requirement answers in a functional, pragmatic way whether ethics should be taught in schools of public health, but by simply adhering to such requirements a school may fail to address the deeper questions of why ethics should be taught, and if so, which aspects should be in the curriculum. To answer these more fundamental questions, one must first recognize that, regardless of whether the topic is listed formally in the curriculum, ethics is taught in every department of every school of public health. When a professor speaks of the “underserved,” he or she is appealing implicitly to a sense of justice. A cost-benefit analysis conducted by a health economist implies a utilitarian ethic. The alpha-level applied to a statistical test speaks of a level of caution or conservatism in deciding whether something presents a risk and should be considered for public health intervention. And a researcher who treats study participants with a high level of respect conveys to his or her colleagues and students an ethical stance in research.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Public Health Reports


Thomas, James C.