Kristján Kristjánsson on virtuous medical practice

Professor Kristján Kristjánsson is professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics at the University of Birmingham, and Deputy Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. Together with five other academics he recently published a major research report on the role of the character and virtues in the medical profession in Britain. 

The paper was based on research involving four medical schools in the UK, and medical practices in roughly the same geographical areas as those schools. A survey was answered by 549 1st year undergraduates, final-year students and experienced professionals. 85 of those were subsequently interviewed. 66% of the experienced doctors were GPs.

Professor Kristjánsson recently spoke with BioEdge about the broader implications of his research.


Xavier Symons: Based on your research, do you believe there is there a problem with cognitive and/or deontological approaches to teaching medical ethics? 

Kristján Kristjánsson: I did consider this a problem – for purely philosophical reasons – before we started the research project, and the findings provided empirical backbone to those concerns. They revealed a strange mismatch in the UK between general medical ethics (bioethics), where virtue ethics has become the theory of choice, and professional medical ethics which is still focused almost entirely on formal rules, regulations and codes of conduct, or highly abstract deontological principles (such as respect for patient autonomy).

"medical phronesis is not inborn – it requires attention and training, both in medical education and further in the workplace." 

The doctors – especially the more experienced ones – complained that the rules they had learned were too general, with no attention to particularities such as special circumstances and special personal characteristics of individual patients.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.