Doctors are members of one of the most ancient professions. Such membership brings the expectation of professional attitudes and behaviour. But what does it mean to be professional?
Dictionary definitions include references to expertise, competence and skill. It is about maintaining a standard well beyond that of the amateur. Further exploration of the general use of the term uncovers comments of appropriate appearance, demeanour, etiquette and of ethics. So far so good. However, the term ‘professionalism’ also has some different connotations for some people.
Problematic ‘Professionals’ and trust.
Autonomous. Self-regulating. Exclusive. Privileged. Elitist. These are a few of the less desirable behaviours that you come across. Some people use the badge of professionalism as a mask for protectionism. They are easily stung by criticism and are resistant to ‘interference’ from ‘others’. They feel threatened by managers, politicians or those jumped-up-healthcare-professionals-who-are-not-doctors encroaching on their territory.
True professionalism is a cornerstone of trust. Yet, over the past decade there has been an implosion of trust in our society. It’s most evident in the world of politics. We’ve seen that as trust declines, anti-establishment resistance grows. Many doctors feel threatened by a similar distrust and associated attitudes. Some look back to the days when patients simply did what they were told with misty eyed nostalgia. But medical practice has changed considerably over the years and so has the concept of true professionalism.
There is increasingly a gap between what doctors are trained to do and the realities of modern practice.
That’s the headline of Advancing Medical Professionalism – a publication developed in consultation with healthcare professionals, patients and other stakeholders. In-depth knowledge of the natural sciences combined with technical skill and manual dexterity are essential characteristics for being a good doctor. However, true excellence requires much more.
The report proposes seven key aspects of professional medical practice:
- patient partner
- team worker
- manager and leader
- learner and teacher
It argues that such professionalism brings benefits for patients, teams, organisations and for doctors themselves. Achieving true mastery of all seven aspects is a lifelong endeavour, so there is always room for improvement. That aligns directly with our ideals at Oxford Medical Training.
What steps are you taking to advance your professionalism?
Stephen McGuire – Director of Development