Advancing medical professionalism

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Advancing medical professionalism, developed in consultation with healthcare professionals, patients and other stakeholders, aims to help doctors improve their professionalism in practical ways.

The report focuses on seven key aspects of professional practice:

  • doctor as healer
  • patient partner
  • team worker
  • manager and leader
  • learner and teacher
  • advocate
  • innovator.

These seven characteristics are not yet viewed as part of the core professional identity of the doctor, but we hope that individuals, teams and institutions will use these to help them explore and develop professionalism. The attributes of the modern professional doctor, which relate to all seven aspects of professional practice, are summarised below. 

Advancing medical professionalism argues for understanding and advancing professionalism as one way to support doctors to find joy and satisfaction throughout a 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.

Thinking about professionalism has the potential to clarify the current context in which healthcare is provided, and inspire confidence and pride in an occupation.

Advancing medical professionalism

Articulating a modern professional identity helps doctors to understand and undertake the unique role they play in healthcare. Thinking about professionalism has the potential to clarify the current context in which healthcare is provided, and inspire confidence and pride in an occupation. It can also provide a sense of identity beneficial to patients, all healthcare professionals, and the organisations in which they work. 

Why now?

While the world changes, the medical profession is experiencing turmoil. After years of discussion, failed contractual negotiations ended in 2015 with the first all-out strikes by junior doctors in the history of the NHS. The strikes raised questions about professionalism, and many junior doctors felt that their professional identity was being attacked, while some doctors thought it unprofessional to strike.

Discontent is felt not just by junior doctors, but increasingly throughout the profession. Nearly half of doctors surveyed report their morale to be low or very low (BMA, 2018). 45% of new medical consultant jobs remain unfilled, while consultants regularly report working down to cover gaps on medical rotas (RCP, 2018). Record numbers of GP posts are unfilled: nearly one-third of GP practices in England have a vacancy for at least one GP partner (NHS Providers, 2017).

An onslaught of top-down and occasionally contradictory policy initiatives has led many clinicians to become ‘change-fatigued’, suppressing the innovation, creativity, and drive of a committed workforce. 

Advancing medical professionalism

An onslaught of top-down and occasionally contradictory policy initiatives has led many clinicians to become ‘change-fatigued’, suppressing the innovation, creativity, and drive of a committed workforce. 

Who is the report for?

The report is intended primarily for members and fellows of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), particularly for those directly involved in caring for patients, but it should prove helpful to many types of doctor, other healthcare professionals, healthcare leaders and medical students. The report does not, however, address the extra care around professionalism and communication to be borne in mind for children and young people, vulnerable adults and some patients with mental health problems.