Emphasizing Ethics in Education

March 31, 2014 by JordanG
My name is Jeremy Hawkins.  I am the Athletic Training Program Director at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado.  I have a passion for athletic training professional education and am excited to be a regular contributor to NATA Now.

When approached about the possibility of contributing to NATA Now, I jumped at the chance. Today is a great day and age to be an athletic trainer, and I love that I get to spend time each day preparing athletic training students to become athletic trainers.  Please note the emphasis on “become.” The Merriman-Webster dictionary provides this definition of become: “to begin to be or come to be something specified: to begin to have a specified quality.” I strive to help the athletic training students I work with become athletic trainers, and plan to share my thoughts on becoming athletic trainers through these regular blog posts.  In that light, I hope that athletic training students, clinicians, and educators can find value in what they read.

The Need to Teach and Practice Ethics
Recent events have caused me to reflect about how much I emphasize the need to teach and encourage the practice of ethics. In the preamble to the Code of Ethics we read:

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association Code of Ethics states the principles of ethical behavior that should be followed in the practice of athletic training.  It is intended to establish and maintain high standards and professionalism for the athletic training profession.
The principles do not cover every situation encountered by the practicing athletic trainer, but are representative of the spirit with which athletic trainers should make decisions.  The principles are written generally; the circumstances of a situation will determine the interpretation and application of a given principle and of the Code as a whole.  When a conflict exists between the Code and the law, the law prevails.

The preamble is followed up by four principles that are in place to serve as a guide for the practice of athletic training:

1.    Members shall respect the rights, welfare and dignity of all.
2.    Members shall comply with the laws and regulations governing the practice of athletic training.
3.    Members shall maintain and promote high standards in their provision of services.
4.    Members shall not engage in conduct that could be construed as a conflict of interest or that reflects negatively on the profession.

Hopefully this document and the principles included herein are not new to you. With respect to this document, the question undoubtedly arises – how does one learn to practice ethically? 

In their book Professional Ethics in Athletic Training, Schlabach and Peer reference the work by Shefrin and Harper in stating that “Ethics, or the way a moral person should behave, embodies two concepts: the ability to discern right from wrong and a commitment to do what is good, right, and proper.” They stress the need for ethics training to take place throughout the curriculum “by emphasizing the development of moral agents in a variety of contexts encourages professional behaviors.”  To aid in helping to learn how a “moral person should behave” and to “clarify your moral compass”, Schlabach and Peer introduce several ways to learn ethics.  Examples include: Case Analysis or Case Studies; Reflection; Peer, Collaborative, and Cooperative Learning; Linked Learning Activities; Problem Based Learning; and Role Playing to name a few. 

Regardless of which of these approaches you choose to use, it is imperative we talk about the ethics of athletic training in all that we do. For example, when you discuss an orthopedic case, discuss any ethical aspects as well. When you discuss administrative issues, address ethical issues. When you discuss treatment options for a given injury or illness, discuss the ethics involved. It is best to decide what you are going to do in a given situation prior to being placed in that situation. We have emergency action plans in place that are practiced regularly and well understood.  It is time we have ethics emergency action plans as well, plans that are practiced and well understood.

Posted by Jordan Grantham on behalf of blog author Jeremy Hawkins, PhD, ATC.