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Drive to boost doctors’ professionalism at work

Support needed to ensure doctors gain more skills

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 06 December 2018

Doctors who currently feel discontented at work need more support to help them develop new skills and attributes linked to professionalism, according to a report published today.

The Advancing medical professionalism report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) follows up a report* in 2005, which defined professionalism as “a set of values, behaviours and relationships that underpin the trust the public has in doctors”.

The new report looks at what this means for doctors under growing pressures from increased workload, as well as dealing with changes to healthcare, to their own remit and to their relationship with patients.

Evidence for the report was collected from a literature review, focus groups, interviews with stakeholders, workshops, and roundtable discussions, some of which involved GPs.

The authors said there was increasingly a gap between what doctors were trained to do and the realities of modern practice, which was fraught with complexity, competing ideals of what is good practice, rising demand, and increasing regulatory and legal obligations.

The medical profession had been “experiencing turmoil” in recent years, they said, shown by the first all-out strikes by junior doctors in the history of the NHS, low morale in the profession reported by the British Medical Association, record numbers of GP posts unfilled, nearly a third of GP practices in England having a vacancy for at least one GP partner, and almost half of new medical consultant jobs remaining unfilled.

The authors stressed that professionalism was essential in increasing job satisfaction, improving patient care and raising productivity, while pointing out that doctors currently had very little formal education, training and support for professionalism compared to their education in clinical skills and knowledge.

Their report was intended as a useful resource for inspiration and learning, promoting professionalism in every area of a doctor’s work.

It is split into seven sections representing different aspects of doctors’ working lives – doctor as healer; patient partner; team worker; manager and leader; patient advocate; learner and teacher; and innovator.

The authors mentioned the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba – the paediatrician who was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and then struck off the medical register after the General Medical Council appealed the decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service – saying that it had sent shock waves 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, they said.

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 Bod said: “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.”


*Doctors in society: Medical professionalism in a changing world. Royal College of Physicians, December 2005.

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