Purpose: The author interprets the state of the art of assessing professional behavior. She defines the concept of professionalism, reviews the psychometric properties of key approaches to assessing professionalism, conveys major findings that these approaches produced, and discusses recommendations to improve the assessment of professionalism.
Method: The author reviewed professionalism literature from the last 30 years that had been identified through database searches; included in conference proceedings, bibliographies, and reference lists; and suggested by experts. The cited literature largely came from peer-reviewed journals, represented themes or novel approaches, reported qualitative or quantitative data about measurement instruments, or described pragmatic or theoretical approaches to assessing professionalism.
Results: A circumscribed concept of professionalism is available to serve as a foundation for next steps in assessing professional behavior. The current array of assessment tools is rich. However, their measurement properties should be strengthened. Accordingly, future research should explore rigorous qualitative techniques; refine quantitative assessments of competence, for example, through OSCEs; and evaluate separate elements of professionalism. It should test the hypothesis that assessment tools will be better if they define professionalism as behaviors expressive of value conflicts, investigate the resolution of these conflicts, and recognize the contextual nature of professional behaviors. Whether measurement tools should be tailored to the stage of a medical career and how the environment can support or sabotage the assessment of professional behavior are central issues.
Final thought: Without solid assessment tools, questions about the efficacy of approaches to educating learners about professional behavior will not be effectively answered.