Prison Medicine

Course for physicians working in prison: human rights/ethics

A web-based course for health care personnel working in prisons

The web-based course on Human Rights and Ethics for Prison Doctors was originally developed in 2004 by the Norwegian Medical Association, in cooperation with the ѻý (WMA) and the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). Various associations and organisations have contributed to the course. The project was sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

International human rights law and medical ethics are dynamic, they adapt to evolving societies and the practice of medicine. Thus, existing courses need regular and comprehensive updates. In 2019-2020, the ICRC in partnership with the ѻýundertook an update of this course, especially in relation with human rights, medical ethics, mental health, healthcare for women and accompanying children in detention and other vulnerable groups.

The prison doctor’s challenges

Doctors and other health professionals working in prisons face problems that are different from those encountered by doctors working with the general population. Prison doctors must be able to provide adequate health care in the particular environment that exist in prisons. The doctor’s conduct must not be in conflict with international human rights and ethical standards.

In many countries little educational opportunities are provided to health professionals working in detention settings. It has direct repercussions on the quality of health care provided to detainees and the health outcomes of this population. Many doctors do not have access to international conventions and rules regulating health care services for prisoners. They encounter human rights violations, but do not know how to deal with them adequately. We believe this course will meet some of the needs many prison doctors have for more knowledge and skills in human rights and medical ethics.

Objectives of the programme

The objectives of the course are:

  • to present relevant international statements regulating the medical treatment of prisoners;
  • to raise the prison health professionals’ awareness on their role in various areas of conflict of interests between the prisoner (the patient) and the prison administration and between a prisoner (a patient) and the public health in prison.

We believe this course is a significant educational resource for prison doctors. It offers detailed practical advice for any prison doctors seeking to improve their understanding of the human rights and ethical dimensions of their practice.

The updated courses include 18 chapters and takes 18 hours 15 minutes to complete.


The Norwegian Medical Association has accredited the course with 18 hours as clinical course in prison medicine for general practice.

Course fee

The course is free of charge.


The course is accessible with internet connection. Anyone can look at the course as guest. Health professionals wishing the the course diploma have to log in. Anyone can go at its own pace. The course is interactive using cases that the learner can reflect on. Each chapter is split in lessons. In order to test knowledge there are multiple choices questions at the end of each lessons. When the health professionals have finished all the chapters, completed all tests and the final evaluation, he/she can get the diploma by E mail.


Editors of the 1st version:
Bjørn Oscar Hoftvedt, The Norwegian Medical Association
Hernan Reyes, International Committee of Red Cross

Editors of the updated version:
The International Committee of Red Cross
The ѻý

The course is accessible at: