Ethics, Empathy, and the Education of Dentists
Nash, David A
Journal of dental education 2010 Jun; 74(6): 567-78
Professional education in dentistry exists to educate good dentists-dentists equipped and committed to helping society gain the benefits of oral health. In achieving this intention, dental educators acknowledge that student dentists must acquire the complex knowledge base and the sophisticated perceptual-motor skills of dentistry. The graduation of knowledgeable and skilled clinicians in dentistry is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for ensuring quality oral health care. The further requirement is the commitment of graduates to applying their abilities with moral integrity: providing appropriate and quality care in their patients' best interest. Ultimately, good dentistry depends on individuals committed to treating their patients and society fairly, that is, ethically. This essay describes the historical basis for thinking about ethics from the perspective of human nature; describes how evolutionary ethics seeks to ground moral behavior in human emotion rather than primarily human reason; discusses the roots of morality in the behavior of animals, behavior that observed in humans would be described as empathy; characterizes empathy, discussing its imperative in caring for patients; and suggests what implications an empathy-mediated understanding of morality has for dental education.
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