Discovering and avoiding self-contradiction: Teaching the principles of ethical dialogue among nursing students

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This paper presents an innovative method to teach ethics, which has so far been implemented amongst Danish students. The method focuses on developing skills to conduct a methodical, ethical dialogue by teaching students to become aware of self-contradictions and learning to avoid them. This method was created as a response to a recurring disappointment relating to the common way of teaching ethics in Danish nursing schools, in which students are introduced to ethical theories and asked to use them to reflect on concrete ethical cases. In these courses, quite commonly students were able to understand the theory and see the consequences of such theories in concrete cases, but would not use any of these theories to justify their own ethical decisions in other contexts. In other
words, courses were failing to provide the students with theoretical tools that they could apply outside the classroom. Therefore, this method focuses not so much on teaching what other people think, but rather starts by finding out what the students think, and to which degree they contradict themselves.
In addition the method focuses on how students argue for their positions when entering an ethical dialogue.
The method focuses on two aspects –first developing critical self-refection and secondly developing skills to conduct an ethical dialogue. The first aspect is addressed by finding out what the students think, do they contradict themselves and how to avoid self-contradictions. This is done by using a questionnaire with 13 ethical questions, which are designed so it is easy to contradict one self. The
questionnaire includes a reflection table, which allows students to discover their possible contradictions. Then students learn to stablish morally relevant differences, as a tool to avoid possible contradictions.
The second aspect (learning the skills to conduct an ethical dialogue) builds on the previous ability to identify contradictions. This is done by focusing in 4 basic rules that introduce the basic principles of a dialectical dialogue. These rules allow them to avoid fundamental mistakes which otherwise hinder an
ethical dialogue. One of the advantages of this method is that it demands little knowledge of ethical theories, which has allow us to introduce it amongst clinical nurses, who have use it to qualify the ethical reflections among the students doing internships with them. Furthermore, given that the method uses a questionnaire it has been useful to gather data on student’s reflection level, which shows potential to evaluate their development, and to conduct further research. In this paper I intend to present and explain the method, present its value, show some of its results, but also show the aspects which demand further development.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event“Present and Future Challenges and Opportunities for Ethics in Nursing and Care” - Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 15 Sept 201716 Sept 2017


Conference“Present and Future Challenges and Opportunities for Ethics in Nursing and Care”
LocationCentre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven


  • learning, educational science and teaching
  • disease, health science and nursing
  • ethics


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