Bioethics Blogs

Professionalism in Medicine: I Know it When I See it

by Jennifer Chevinsky, Ph.D.

A medical student comes into the hospital wearing his favorite pair of old, ripped, dirty jeans.

A physician ‘pimps’ a medical student and publicly shames her when she doesn’t know the answer.

A nurse tells the patient that he really does not like working with the case manager on the medical service.

A resident presents her patient to the attending, including a complete physical exam that she did not perform.

In recent years, increased focus has been placed on the concept of professionalism in medicine by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME), Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), and Accreditation Council of Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). But, what do they mean by ‘professionalism?’ Is professionalism just a list of behaviors and attitudes that can be placed into columns of “appropriate” or “inappropriate”? How can we assess professionalism, how can we teach it – can it even can be taught?

Although every medical school includes some judgment about their students’ professionalism, there is little standardization across universities or even medical departments. Unsurprisingly, there are large differences among individual perceptions. In order to reach a more unified approach, an in-depth analysis of the concept of professionalism is vital. Many assert that there is a connection between medical ethics, medical humanities, and professionalism, but the exact nature of this connection is far from clear. Last month, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to explore some of these questions through attending and presenting at the Academy for Professionalism in Health Care (APHC) conference as a Romanell Educational Fellow (May 7 – 9, 2015).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.