Professional Healthcare Education: Ethical competence and emotional intelligence as aspects of care


The balance of ethical and legal considerations necessary to the work of health care professionals is shared by other professions. However, given that many health care professionals share intimate aspects of their patients’ lives and that most of us receive professional healthcare during our lives, the way in which students are prepared for their professional roles in healthcare is something in which the whole society has a vested interest. This paper examines the issues relevant to teaching ethics within the context of professional healthcare education programs. Developing the requisite competence in students is a complex task. It entails challenging models of healthcare practice which suggest that practitioners must act “dispassionately, at the proper remove from the white heat of the event”i if they are to practise well; and broadening ethical foci beyond an emphasis on mere compliance with a professional code of ethics. Sophisticated ethical competence requires the development of skills in analysis and decision-making; as well as the development of habits of mind and dispositions which allow practitioners to intelligently address new and challenging problems as they arise. The paper explores healthcare education from two perspectives. Firstly, it focuses on the distinction between the practice of an art and that of a craft in the work of Aristotle and others. Art is considered as an enterprise to which the virtues and phronēsis are intrinsic, while craft’s associations with more mechanical, predetermined professional activity are considered, along with a possible reconciliation of the two. The second perspective focuses on the nature of care and on integrative approaches to care which suggest that the healer’s art involves “sharp compassion”.

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