Teaching medical ethics through popular culture

Evie Kendal1, Basia Diug2

1 Monash University, Alfred Centre, Melbourne VIC, 3004 
2 Monash University, Alfred Centre, Melbourne VIC, 3004 

It is known that medical and nursing students watch medical television dramas and comedies. One study from John Hopkins University cites 84% of medical students and 81% of nursing students reported watching medical television dramas (Czarny et al. 2008). A repeat of this study was done in Australia in 2011 in which 93.7% of medical students reported watching medical dramas (Weaver and Wilson, 2011). Among the shows specifically mentioned in these studies were Grey’s Anatomy, House M.D., Scrubs and E.R. Many students in these studies report discussing ethical issues arising in these programs with family and friends and seeking professional role models from among the fictional doctors depicted. This paper explores the relationship between healthcare career aspirations and consumption of medically-focused popular culture within first year medical, biomedical and health science students at Monash University. The aim of the project is to identify best practice for teaching medicine and medical ethics content in the tertiary education environment, taking into consideration that the above data indicates that incorporating popular culture references into medical and health education is likely to increase student engagement and represents a source of untapped potential for effective communication of medical information from lecturers to students and, further downstream, from doctors to patients. Medical teaching facilities engaging with this form of education have reported consistently positive results (from students and tutors) indicating the significant potential this mode of teaching has for enhancing student learning (Glasser et al., 2001).


Evie Kendal joined the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash in 2012 and currently works as an Assistant Lecturer for the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the Alfred, teaching into the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, Bachelor of Health Science, and Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree programs. Evie also teaches bioethics, philosophy and literary studies at Monash.

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The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

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