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Psychiatry Residency Ethics Track

Coordinated with the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy and the ScattergoodEthics Program, the Ethics in Psychiatry Track provides interested residents with opportunities to engage in scholarly work in behavioral health care ethics. Specific topics may include the ethics of re-categorization of mental disorders, capacity and involuntary treatment, research involving mentally ill participants, confidentiality and the duty to warn and protect, and ethical issues related to correctional and forensic psychiatry. Trainees need not have a background in applied ethics or biomedical ethics.

Brief Description

Early in training, residents will meet with the track director, Dominic Sisti, PhD, to formulate a research and career prospectus. The research prospectus will briefly describe the intended primary research project. The career prospectus will outline potential ways to integrate medical ethics into the resident’s post-training career. During PGY2, a comprehensive reading list will be designed to provide ​the ​conceptual background needed to execute a research project. During PGY3 and PGY4, the trainee will spend elective time at the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy conducting their research project and engaging in the intellectual life of the department​ through participation in department seminars, works in progress meetings, and informal gatherings.​

Goals & Expectations

Residents will lead one project, with mentorship, and will aim to submit a ​manuscript for publication by December of PGY4. Trainees will​ also​ have the opportunity to ​present their work at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.


Graduate Seminar: Ethics in Mental Health Care (BIOE-590)

Mental healthcare—which includes but is not limited to psychiatry, psychology, and clinical social work—is an especially ethically fraught subdiscipline of the larger medical enterprise. Issues range from garden-variety problems related to informed consent, patient capacity, and clinical professionalism to novel issues related to involuntary treatment, research on mentally ill persons, questions about free will and nosological categories. This course presents a survey of these ethical issues by first introducing foundational concepts from ethical theory and the philosophy of psychiatry. Students are expected to become conversant in several bioethical approaches and methods and be able to use them to critically examine both historical and contemporary questions in mental healthcare and research.

This course will be offered again in the Fall 2018.


The ScattergoodEthics Institute Series is the flagship community educational initiative of the ScattergoodEthics Program.  Led by faculty from the University of Pennsylvania Department of Medical Ethics & Department of Psychiatry, ScattergoodEthics Institutes offer topical and timely content on a variety of ethical issues related to behavioral healthcare practice and policy.  Continuing medical education and continuing educational units are available at all Institutes. Previous Institute topics include:

Dangerousness & Involuntary Treatment: An Applied Ethics Workshop, March 2014

What is Recovery? Ethical Challenges & Clinical Transformations, May 2012

Categories & Controversies: The Ethical Dimensions of the DSM-5, September 2011 

Cluster B Personality Disorders: Ethical Issues in Nosology, Diagnosis & Treatment, May 2011

Pennsylvania Hospital Psychiatric Ethics Didactic Series

Ethics didactic sessions are held monthly. Sessions have two parts: (1) one resident presents the facts and ethical dimensions of a recent case and (2) didactic content covers a specific ethical or philosophical issue in the recent bioethics literature. Residents should complete the assigned readings to ensure thoughtful and critical discussion. Often there will appear news items worthy of discussion. If so, these will be sent to residents via the PAH Inpatient Chief Resident in advance of meetings.



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