Medical Students and Professionalism

"The hardest conviction to get into the mind of a beginner is that the education upon which [he/she] is engaged is not a college course, not a medieval course, but a life course, for which the work of a few years under teachers is but a preparation." [Osler, (5)]

The question of where medical students fit in the greater picture of professionalism is important to understanding how best to instill the values of professionalism into new graduates. Although one’s interpretation of professionalism can vary depending on the stage of training, from medical student to resident and eventually to staff physician, its actual meaning remains unchanged. For medical students in their pre-clerkship years, issues regarding professionalism may seem rather "common sense." Encouraging positive peer relations, presenting oneself appropriately at clinical encounters, and arriving to class on time seemingly go hand-in-hand with medical school. During the pre-clerkship years, it is also difficult to imagine what sort of challenges working on hospital wards will bring. For that reason, making students aware of issues in the healthcare field early in their education, whether it be patient-physician standards of conduct or dealing with difficult colleagues, promotes discussion and encourages students to think about 'what type of doctor' they would like to become.  

For the medical student, professionalism means aspiring to an ideal and constantly reflecting on one's personal behaviour and attitudes with respect to that ideal. As stated by Osler in the opening statement of this section, medicine requires one to embark on a lifelong journey dedicated to learning and healing. Upon acceptance to medical school, students enter into a profession which has promoted the health and well-being of fellow human beings for centuries; thus, professionalism essentially begins with entry into medical school.

As medical students, understanding the values and attributes expected of physicians will remain most imperative throughout one’s career. Caring for patients that are ill demands compassion, competence, and sound ethical values, and there is no better time to foster the values of the medical profession than the beginning of the journey.

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Last updated: 2015.09.08