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Professionalism is an important consideration for any group of people working together. I am currently preparing for a presentation that weaves the medical profession with social media. As a result, I have been thinking more about what truly defines professionalism, what it means to a physician community and how it can be fostered.
I grew up by the Atlantic Ocean. As an analogy, I liken medical professionalism to an ocean. Whether we are sitting on its shore or swimming in it, most of us enjoy it and appreciate it more when its surf is calm. On the flip side, most of us become quickly alarmed by an unstable current or a rogue wave heading towards us.
Given this analogy, how can we safely swim in the ocean of our profession?
What is medical professionalism?
Medical professionalism is a complex concept integrating physician, physician-physician, physician-patient, and physician-system relationships. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has devised a policy to guide and define medical professionalism. In part, they state:
“The medical profession is characterized by a strong commitment to the well-being of patients, high standards of ethical conduct, mastery of an ever-expanding body of knowledge and skills, and a high level of clinical independence.” Where physicians “as members of the medical profession they are expected to share and uphold those values that characterize the practice of medicine and the care of patients.”
One of the key factors involved in medical professionalism, also highlighted by the CMA, is self-regulation. Not surprisingly, this is also a key concept in Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and leadership. Daniel Goleman, a leader in the field of EQ, illustrates a person who can self-regulate as someone who can reflect, is thoughtful, recognizes and accepts change, and lives with a sense of integrity. In the medical profession, as in many others, the ability to self-regulate can significantly impact both one’s work environment and the relationships that exist within it.
What are the implications of medical professionalism?
As the CMA policy on medical professionalism indicates, many challenges exist both within and outside the medical environment. Awareness is key through both education and policy making. In an article by Dr. Lynne Kirk, Professionalism in medicine: definitions and considerations for teaching, she suggests steps involved in teaching professionalism: “setting expectations, performing assessments, remediating inappropriate behaviors, preventing inappropriate behaviors, and implementing a cultural change.”
The term ‘disruptive physician’ is used in physician culture to signify the behavior of a physician that is deemed inappropriate and that can lead to multi-levels problems within the medical environment. Quite often, either a personal or medical reason underlies the behavior.
Back to our ocean analogy, the disruptive physician represents the rip tide or rogue wave. As a form of self-preservation, other physicians must learn to safely manage such waters and contain the situation for the onlookers on shore (i.e. patients, regulatory bodies, societies).
4 ways to manage threats to medical professionalism
1) Look in the mirror first – focus on your own leaderships skills such as self-awareness, empathy and self-regulation.
2) Create an open culture for communication – allow for discussion around both what is and what isn’t working to avoid potential conflict.
3) Set aside time for play – organizing retreats is a great way to allow members of the physician community to enjoy time together on a personal level.
4) Implement wellness strategies – create ways to enhance personal wellness such as through on-site fitness, healthy food options, stress management education sessions, and supportive resources.
What does professionalism mean to you?