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Medical Professionalism

Ask a dozen doctors what professionalism means to them and you’re likely to a dozen permutations of an internalized version of the Hippocratic Oath. I’ve cobbled together a definition from various sources* which may be of use to readers interested in the CliffsNotes version 

* University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, and relevant wikipedia entries. 

professionalism welby image from New Medical Terms

The Dr Welby version of medical professionalism

A professional is expected to:

• Master a body of knowledge and skills used to serve others; 

• Uphold the highest standards of ethics and behavior in all endeavors;

• Have a pact of trust with patients, peers, and society. The contract with society allows personal and professional self-regulation

• Efface self-interest when faced with moral dilemmas

The US ACGME* defined the professionalism required of doctors in training (residents), here modified 

*Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education

Residents are to demonstrate:

• Respect, compassion, and integrity; responsiveness to patient and societal needs that supersedes self-interest; accountability to patients, society, and the profession; and a commitment to excellence and ongoing professional development

• Commitment to ethical principles pertaining to provision or withholding of clinical care, confidentiality of patient information, informed consent, and business practices

• Sensitivity and responsiveness to patients’ culture, age, gender, and disabilities

The Medical Professionalism Project co-launched by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, the American College of Physicians Foundation, and the European Federation of Internal Medicine, resulted in a professionalism charter, published in 2002 and adopted by key physician organizations.

The Charter’s principles of professionalism:

• Primacy of patient welfare, reflecting altruism, trust, and patient interest, while countering, where applicable, market forces, societal pressures, and administrative exigencies.

• Zealous advocacy of patient autonomy, with openness, education and empowerment to support appropriate medical decisions.

• Social and distributive justice, which weighs available resources and the needs of all patients. while managing individual patients.

professionalism good:bad Image from New Medical Terms

Professionalism summarized

Professional responsibilities per the Charter: 

Commitment to:

• Professional competence

• Honesty with patients

• Patient confidentiality

• Maintaining appropriate relations with patients

• Improving quality of care

• Improving access to care

• Just distribution of finite resources

• Scientific knowledge

• Trustworthiness by managing conflicts of interest

The author assumes the healthcare professionals reading these pages know the difference between right and wrong and would not knowingly commit the acts on the right side of the above table…


Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2007 Jan; 20(1): 13–16.