Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Ethical issues in health workforce development

Richard Cash


Increasing the numbers of health workers and improving their skills requires that countries confront a number of ethical dilemmas. The ethical considerations in answering five important questions on enabling health workers to deal appropriately with the circumstances in which they must work are described. These include the problems of the standards of training and practice required in countries with differing levels of socioeconomic development and different priority diseases; how a society can be assured that health practitioners are properly trained; how a health system can support its workers; diversion of health workers and training institutions; and the teaching of ethical principles to student health workers. The ethics of setting standards for the skills and care provided by traditional health-care practitioners are also discussed.