Medical professionalism essential but needs more support, says RCP

Supporting doctors in developing new skills and attributes linked to professionalism can help resolve the discontent that many feel with their jobs, according to a report published by the RCP.

Advancing medical professionalism underlines how essential professionalism is in increasing job satisfaction, improving patient care and raising productivity, and looks at what this means for doctors under growing pressures from increased workload, to their own remit and to their relationship with patients.

The report points to a growing gap between what doctors are trained to do and the realities of their workplace – fraught with complexity, competing ideals of what is good practice, rising demand, and increasing regulatory and legal obligations. According to Advancing medical professionalism, doctors face ethical dilemmas and clashes in professional (and sometimes) personal values, which can include advocating for the best care of a single patient and using resources efficiently in a finite system, putting the care of the patient first while maintaining one’s own health and welfare, and speaking up about concerns while knowing this may result in reprisals.

Professionalism is more than a lofty ideal; it encompasses who doctors are, how they work and what they value.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, immediate past president of the RCP

The case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba – a paediatrician who was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and then struck off the medical register after the General Medical Council (GMC) appealed the decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) – sent shockwaves through the medical profession. While the appeal was overturned earlier this year, the case has prompted many questions about the role of doctors and their professionalism.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, immediate past president of the RCP, said:

Understanding and advancing professionalism is a way to support doctors to find joy and satisfaction across their career. Professionalism is more than a lofty ideal; it encompasses who doctors are, how they work and what they value.

It is writ large every day in the decisions doctors make, the way they treat their colleagues and patients, and the way they view themselves. 

New RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard has promised to take forward the work:

Doctors face an increasing workload and an ever more pressurised workplace, and looking at professionalism is vital if we are to help them to do the best job possible for their patients and their hospitals, while ensuring that they can take pride and pleasure from the essential job they do.

Notes to editors

For further information about the report please contact Mike Blakemore, RCP head of media and engagement, on +44 (0)20 3075 1468 or communications adviser Amarinder Cooner on +44 (0)20 3075 2399. Out of office hours please call +44 (0)7896 416409.

Advancing medical professionalism was authored by Dr Jude Tweedie, research fellow to immediate past president of the RCP Professor Dame Jane Dacre, and Professor Joshua Hordern, associate professor of Christian ethics, University of Oxford. Professor Hordern leads the Oxford Healthcare Values Partnership and is a member of the RCP’s Committee for Ethical Issues in Medicine. Dr Richard Smith added to, and extensively edited, the report.