Medical Ethics for Physicians

Medical ethics, also known as bioethics, is an amalgam of medicine, law, and religion. It is also influenced by cultural beliefs. In this course, we will define the most common ethical principles and note their relationship to the basic theories of ethics. Some of the prominent court cases that have dictated the basis of physician-patient relationships, especially in end-of-life care, are presented. Also, the Patient Self-Determination Act is outlined with explanations of advance directives—better known as physician directives and durable power of attorney for health care. Finally, a possible method of setting up a workable ethical decision-making framework is presented in some detail. Hopefully, this will be useful in the event of a conflict or when a decision involving ethical issues confronts us or our fellow physicians. This course should allow us to comprehend the basic precepts of medical ethics and afford us the general knowledge of how to apply them in our everyday practice of medicine.

The purpose of this course is to briefly review the history, theory, and practical application of ethical principles to issues that arise in clinical practice. The goals of the course are to heighten awareness and promote self-reflection, address knowledge gaps, improve communication and decision-making skills, and promote reasonable, humane care for patients and families.

Target Audience

This course is designed for physicians and interested healthcare professionals.

Learning Objectives

  1. Outline the history of bioethics, including the evolution of the physician-patient relationship.
  2. Discuss the Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan cases as they influenced national and state healthcare policies.
  3. State the purpose of the Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) of 1990 and the role of healthcare professionals.
  4. Differentiate between the types of advance directives.
  5. Discuss the national ethical standards frameworks and their relationship to ethical decision making for patients.
  6. Define terminology regarding bioethics, including the principles guiding medical ethical decision making.
  7. Compare and contrast various ethical theories as they relate to health care.
  8. Describe elements of setting up a workable ethical decision-making framework.

Additional Information

Course summary
Available credit: 
  • 5.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit
Course opens: 
Course expires: 

John M. Leonard, MD, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, completed his post-graduate clinical training at the Yale and Vanderbilt University Medical Centers before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1974. He is a clinician-educator and for many years served as director of residency training and student educational programs for the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine. Over a career span of 40 years, Dr. Leonard conducted an active practice of general internal medicine and an inpatient consulting practice of infectious diseases.

Michele Nichols, RN, BSN, MA, received her Associates Degree in Nursing in 1977, her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing in 1981 and obtained her Master of Arts Degree in Ethics and Policy Studies in 1990 through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She was Chief Nurse Executive at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and retired as the System Director for the Valley Health System University, a five hospital system in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently a volunteer nurse for Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada.

Faculty Disclosure

Contributing faculty, John M. Leonard, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Contributing faculty, Michele Nichols, RN, BSN, MA, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Division Planner

John V. Jurica, MD, MPH

Division Planner Disclosure

The division planner has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Director of Development and Academic Affairs

Sarah Campbell

Director Disclosure Statement

The Director of Development and Academic Affairs has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

About the Sponsor

The purpose of NetCE is to provide challenging curricula to assist healthcare professionals to raise their levels of expertise while fulfilling their continuing education requirements, thereby improving the quality of healthcare.

Our contributing faculty members have taken care to ensure that the information and recommendations are accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The publisher disclaims any liability, loss or damage incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents. Participants are cautioned about the potential risk of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into practice.

Disclosure Statement

It is the policy of NetCE not to accept commercial support. Furthermore, commercial interests are prohibited from distributing or providing access to this activity to learners.

In support of improving patient care, NetCE is jointly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), to provide continuing education for the healthcare team.

Designations of Credit

NetCE designates this enduring material for a maximum of 5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Available Credit

  • 5.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit


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This course is offered through NetCE.

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