Medicine and Professionalism

The practice of medicine is a human endeavor.1

Medicine is considered to be the classic example of a profession. The term Professionalism embraces a set of attitudes, skills and behaviours, attributes and values which are expected from those to whom society has extended the privilege of being considered a Professional.

The underlying assumption that necessitates professionalism in medicine is the understanding that practicing medicine is a moral endeavour, requiring a rigorous application of behavioural and ethical standards in combination with scientific training and the ability to care for humans in distress with compassion and empathy.

All definitions of Professionalism include 3 elements:

  1. a physician has mastered a body of knowledge and skills, and this knowledge and training is to be used in the service of others,
  2. the expectation that physicians will uphold the highest standards of ethical and professional behaviour in all their actions and activities,
  3. the practice of medicine involves a compact of trust between patient and doctor – a social (moral) contract termed a fiduciary relationship. This contract with society allows us to regulate ourselves, both personally and professionally.

One of our central tasks at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Medicine is to instill and evaluate the values of medical professionalism in our students and to facilitate the development of their professional identity in preparing them for their future role as physicians caring for people who are ill. 

The Core Values of Professionalism include:  

  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Altruism
  • Respect
  • Responsibility and Accountability
  • Compassion and Empathy
  • Dedication and Self-improvement

In parallel, we the teaching faculty are given the responsibility for ascertaining that our students have the knowledge and skills to embark on the next stage of their preparation to become doctors, either family practitioners or specialists.

This website was created to explain to medical students (and others) what is meant by the term medical professionalism and why it is of utmost importance for them, now and in their future. It was written by a medical student in the summer prior to her clerkship year under the supervision of Dr. Walter Hendelman, former chair of professionalism at the faculty of medicine, University of Ottawa.


References

  1. Swick HM. Toward a normative definition of medical professionalism. Acad Med. 2000;75:612-616.
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Last updated: 2012.11.15