RCP launches new Code of Conduct for fellows and members

A new code of conduct is encouraging doctors to be the best they can be by being more aware of the impact of their behaviours on others.

Published by the RCP as part of the celebrations to mark the college’s milestone 500th birthday, the new RCP500 Code of Conduct makes explicit the standards expected from all members and fellows.

In a simple 10 point plan the code tackles head-on issues raised by movements such as #MeToo, making specific reference to the responsibility that comes with holding the position of a physician.

Authored by Dr Emma Vaux, RCP senior censor and vice president for education and training, the code builds on her 28 years in medicine, aiming to better empower physicians to hold themselves and others to account for the damage inappropriate behaviours, such as rudeness, can cause. A consultant nephrologist and general physician, Dr Vaux said:

The code reflects the privileged position doctors hold and the responsibility that this comes with, not only in our interactions with patients but with colleagues too. We need to be mindful of the difference in status that exists between consultants and trainees, other healthcare professionals, and the patients and families we serve, and always use our positions respectfully.

The code reflects the privileged position doctors hold and the responsibility that this comes with, not only in our interactions with patients but with colleagues too.

Dr Emma Vaux, RCP senior censor and vice president for education and training

The code encourages doctors “… to explore and learn from our history, both in how we can apply this learning to the professional health of physicians in the 21st century and how we conduct ourselves.” It is particularly aimed at those behaviours that are rarely overt enough to cause a referral to the regulator, but are still incredibly damaging to others, and through their impact, to patient care.

Set to be written into the RCP byelaws, membership and fellowship ceremonies, the code reflects the values launched by the college and more formally expects all 35,000 members to always:

  1. Treat others with respect and consideration
  2. Recognise and value diversity and individual differences
  3. Behave with integrity, honesty, kindness and patience
  4. Be a role model for professional behaviours
  5. Undertake their work in good conscience and to the best of their ability
  6. Foster collaborative and supportive working with others
  7. Promote trust and a just culture
  8. Hold themselves and others accountable for professional and personal behaviours
  9. Take responsibility for the stewardship of their position of authority, mindful of impact on others
  10. Respect the RCP’s standards and rules and be a guardian of its reputation.

Emma continued:

Many times I have witnessed behaviours that were sexist or undermining or just downright rude, but as a young female medic back in the 1990s, the culture was to ‘just grin and bear it’. Thankfully things have improved since then, but those sorts of behaviours are still endemic. With a more diverse and female workforce than ever before, the timing felt right for the college do something proactive.

Drawn up with the help of my six censor colleagues, the new code makes explicit the behaviours that are expected from all members and fellows, setting a new standard for our next 500 years. I am delighted at how many people have already given it their support.

The code draws attention to movements such as Civility Saves Lives and the disturbing findings it highlights around the impact of rudeness among health professionals. Thirty eight per cent of those exposed to rudeness reported reducing the quality of their work, and 48 per cent reducing their time at work.

RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard commented:

We have made great strides as a college to be much more representative of the diversity of our members, and I am fully behind this next step of an explicit code of conduct for our membership and all those working on behalf of or representing the RCP.

Notes to editors

  1. The full Code of Conduct is now available to read and download.
  2. The 10 standards should be seen as an adjunct to guidance provided by the GMC and published in documents such as Good medical practice, Leadership and management for all doctors and Doctors’ use of social media in addition to the Nolan principles of public life.
  3. Key references include:
    • Choo EK, van Dis J. Kass D. Time’s up for medicine? Only time will tell. New Engl J Med 2018;379:1592-3
    • Jagsi R. Sexual harassment in medicine - #MeToo. New Engl J Med 2018;378:209-11