The Hidden Moral Curriculum of Premedical Education


Too often the focus of ethics reform is on the training students receive in professional school. Under-appreciated and under-studied is the role of pre-professional education in the moral development of future doctors, lawyers, scientists, and other professionals. If we are to understand the moral education of professionals, we cannot ignore the significant lessons future professionals receive in their undergraduate years.

This project explores the many ways undergraduate education and experience shape the next generation of medical professionals. By examining the moral education that takes place before students have entered medical school, this project builds on an earlier research on how premedical students, medical students, premedical advisors, and medical school admissions committee members understand premedical education and its role in preparing students for medical school. In this next phase of the research we look more deeply at the moral dimension of premedical training through interviews with premedical students, undergraduates who have left the premedical track, and first-year medical students. This study explores the way the “hidden curriculum” of premedical education influences the moral development of would-be doctors by focusing on: 1) what students learn about ethical behavior both inside and outside the classroom; 2) what they learn from unofficial sources such as peers and families; and 3) what they learn from observing the actions and language of mentors, peers, and parents—from watching what they do as well as what they say.

This project is supported by the Center for Ethics and Public Life at University of Michigan.