Professionalism in Medicine
As changes in our nation's healthcare and healthcare delivery systems continue to occur, professionalism in medicine is increasingly debated. There are some who say that physicians are losing their professionalism in our highly technical and managed care environment. Medicine has gone through a dramatic transformation over the last four decades; science has raced ahead with astonishing speed to close in on some of the fundamental mysteries of life.
With the advancement of technology and changing market forces, medicine has become complicated and somewhat institutionalized. The health care marketplace is pressuring physicians to cut costs, increase productivity and support the bottom line. The primacy of the patient-physician relationship is being sorely tested. We will emphasize the importance of professionalism in our medical school curriculum to ensure that all students understand professionalism and accept its obligations. Developing effective physician/patient relationships will become of paramount importance. Now we even struggle with definitions of what is a profession? James M. Gustafson described a profession as follows:
- A profession is characterized by mastery of an extensive body of technical knowledge and concepts or theories that explain that knowledge and guide its applications to different circumstances,
- Professions are institutionalized, and thus there are many social controls over professional activity, and,
- Professions are service oriented. They exist to meet particular human needs of individuals and communities.
One of Abraham Flexner's concepts of professionalism, paraphrased by Dr. Richard Foa was "profession will tend to exist or ‘be contrived' to achieve societally defined goals rather that to serve the self-interests of its members. Professions are to be ‘increasingly altruistic in motivation.'
Students must be prepared to deal with all the competing forces of a rapidly changing health care system, and demonstrate the qualities of professionalism during medical school and throughout their careers. It must be clear that we are committed to the best outcome for the patient. Each student must be constantly on guard to protect, defend and advocate for patients. The common ground on which all physicians must stand is that the needs of our patients must come first and foremost.
Each year the School of Medicine holds a White Coat Ceremony, where first-year medical students receive their white coats, as a symbol marking the beginning of their new role as a medical healer and emphasizing the responsibility they are accepting for the care and healing of patients. We constantly re-enforce the importance of professionalism, and remind ourselves that as physicians we are granted extraordinary powers by patients and by society.
See also: Professional Issues