Clinical professionalism is a set of values, behaviours and relationships which underpins the public's trust in healthcare providers both as individuals and organisations. 'First, do no harm' is expressed most clearly today in the patient safety movement and the imperative for transparency and candour in the delivery of healthcare. Professional conduct is essential for safe and high quality clinical care.
The ABC of Clinical Professionalism considers recent evidence on how healthcare practitioners maintain professionalism including how values are developed and affected by the working environment, the challenges of maintaining personal and organisational resilience and the ethical and regulatory framework in which practice is conducted. Topics covered include:
- Acquiring and developing professional values
- Patient-centred care
- Burnout and resilience
- Confidentiality and social media
- The culture of healthcare
- Ensuring patient safety
- Leadership and collaboration
- Ethical and legal aspects of professionalism
- Teaching and assessing professionalism
- Regulation of healthcare professionals
The chapter authors come from a range of countries and have experience of working in multidisciplinary clinical teams, research, and in the training of future healthcare practitioners including their development as professionals.
Consultant Physician and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Derby, UK.
General Practitioner and GP Teaching Fellow
Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine, University of Nottingham, UK
Director of Clinical Skills at Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.
Why Clinical Professionalism Matters
Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine,, University of Nottingham, UK
- Clinical professionalism is founded on respect for the dignity of each human person.
- Each health professional, health service provider, professional body and regulator should 'first, do no harm' to those in their care.
- Modern professionalism is a partnership of patient and professional in an organisational framework that supports the safety and well-being of both parties.
- A duty of care acts to protect patients from a potentially unequal relationship with healthcare providers and professionals.
- A culture of rudeness and incivility in healthcare fosters cynicism and burnout in healthcare professionals and damages patient care.
- Clinical professionalism underpins safe patient care and addresses the human factors that contribute to clinical errors.
We are all human beings. We share the same human condition - we suffer, make mistakes, we fall away from our ideals. Equally, we are all capable of greatness, of excellence and of placing the needs of others above ourselves. Each of us is unique and has a value which can never be ignored or taken away. Our roles in life should not only occupy our time but engage and bring us satisfaction. The ancient Greeks defined true happiness as the full use of one's powers along lines of excellence (see Box 1.1). These concepts have been espoused from ancient times.
Box 1.1 An ancient Greek definition of happiness.
'The good of man is the active exercise of his soul's faculties in conformity
with excellence or virtue, or if there be several human excellences or virtues,
in conformity with the best and most perfect among them'.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Nicomachean Ethics
This was paraphrased by John F. Kennedy as, 'Happiness is the full use of your powers along lines of excellence in a life affording scope'.
We collaborate in communities and societies because it is in our interest and that of our group, because there is a mutual benefit in doing so. Some of us seek to alleviate suffering, to repair others and to improve and extend quality of life. Intervening in the lives of others is a challenge carrying a responsibility, again recognised long ago and addressed by Hippocrates: 'First, do no harm.'
This starting point of care by health professionals is set out more clearly in the Hippocratic Oath (see Box 5.1). While intended for the physicians of the time, the principles encapsulated in the oath are reflective of the duties of all healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations in the modern era. Though modified for various settings, their essence is essentially unchanged. In the 21st century, the Physicians' Charter, a collaboration of American and European professional bodies, is a derivative of the Hippocratic Oath rather than its replacement (see Box 1.2). In addition, regulatory bodies have developed guidance on values and practice for their own disciplines which also reflect these concepts (see Further reading/resources).
Box 1.2 The physicians' charter.
Professionalism is the basis of medicine's contract with society.
- Fundamental principles:
- Principle of primacy of patient welfare.
- Principle of patient autonomy.
- Principle of social justice.
- A set of professional responsibilities:
- Commitment to professional competence.
- Commitment to honesty with patients.
- Commitment to patient confidentiality.
- Commitment to maintaining appropriate relations with patients.
- Commitment to improving quality of care.
- Commitment to improving access to care.
- Commitment to a just distribution of finite resources.
- Commitment to scientific knowledge.
- Commitment to maintaining trust by managing conflicts of interest.
- Commitment to professional responsibilities.
Adapted from ABIM Foundation, American Board of Internal Medicine, ACP-ASIM Foundation (2002) American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, European Federation of Internal Medicine. Medical professionalism in the new millennium: A physician charter. Annals of Internal Medicine, 136 (3), 243-246.
Formation of professions and the duty of care
The concept of medicine as a 'profession' emerged in the late medieval period with the formation of professional guilds. Initially, the term encompassed the standards and codes of conduct of the practitioners themselves and was essentially doctor-centred. In time, the protection of medical practice from other competing professions, as well as rules governing the commercial conduct of practice, evolved the concept further. The socialisation of health services and the development of patient-centred practice in the last half-century has led to a description of professionalism as a contract between doctors and society. This contract addresses questions of funding, resource allocation and consumerism, but most importantly in ensuring that the patient's own views are heard above those of the various parties involved in healthcare. This is what Engel described as not only, 'What was the matter with the patient', but 'what mattered to the patient' [Engel, G.L. (1977) The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. Science, 196 (4286), 129-136]. The process of healing is thus not simply the removal of disease but also the enablement of patients in achieving full use of their powers and potential (see Chapter 3).
The partnership of patient and professional has been expressed as:
Patient: I suffer; Professional: I think; Patient and Professional: We will act
Even if truly patient-centred, this partnership is still potentially unequal. The patient must rely on the professional's knowledge and skills and the conscientious application of them. The patient may have insufficient expertise to adequately judge if this is the case, and so must trust his or her healthcare professional to do the right thing. In Law, this is addressed by the 'duty of care' (see Box 1.3). Both individuals and organisations control the means and manner of access to healthcare, and therefore both have a duty of care to their patients.
Box 1.3 The duty of care.
'Irrespective of any contract, if someone who is possessed of a special skill undertakes to apply that skill for the assistance of another person, who relies upon such skill, then a duty of care will arise'.
Lord Justice Morris, 1964 Hedley Byrne and Co. Ltd v Heller and Partners
The employment terms and regulatory requirements for healthcare workers rest largely with providers and professional bodies. These bodies set the terms and control the application of these conditions even though professionals engage with them freely. Again, the individual trusts he/she will be dealt with fairly and his/her dignity respected. A duty of care, based on 'first, do no harm', should be firmly embedded in the culture of these organisations, for the professional remains a human being despite his/her role. Similarly, the transparency and duty of candour expected of individuals must be practiced by healthcare providers, professional bodies and other organisations which influence the delivery of healthcare.
Clinical professionalism has therefore social, ethical and legal dimensions. These dimensions serve to define society's expectations of the health professional and the constraints on the scope of clinical practice (see Chapter 9). We promote it as a positive virtue to ensure patient safety (see Chapter 7). Regulatory frameworks are also necessary to define the requirements of entry to a healthcare profession, the monitoring of continuing competence to practice and the identification of situations in which it is no longer appropriate for an individual to have professional registration (see Chapter 11). It is important to appreciate that when regulatory mechanisms are properly and compassionately applied they serve to protect not only patients but also the practitioner. This process reflects the sometime necessities of clinical practice (see Box 1.4).
Box 1.4 Is Mr Fletcher fit to drive?
Mr Fletcher is a 79-year-old man who lives independently with his wife. Mrs Fletcher has mobility problems due to rheumatoid arthritis and relies on her husband to drive her to social and healthcare appointments.
One evening at a traffic junction Mr Fletcher accidently goes into the back of another car. A passing Police car stops to assess the accident. There is damage to both vehicles. Mr Fletcher is noticed to be unsteady and incoherent as he gets out of the car and attempts to explain the situation. The officer breathalyses Mr Fletcher and the result is negative. However, the officer remains concerned regarding Mr Fletcher and decides to inform the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA). He advises Mr Fletcher to see his GP for assessment.
On seeing his GP, Mr Fletcher emphasises his need to continue driving due to his wife's needs. His wife is very vocal in her support of him. Their son is, however, concerned by his father's recent deterioration in health,...