The authors, medical students immersed in learning professionalism, observe that most of the professionalism literature misses the mark. Their views on professionalism education, although not the result of qualitative research, were gained from four years of conversations with students from a dozen medical schools, plus online student discussions, focus groups, and meetings with supervisors from five schools.
The authors propose that the chief barrier to medical professionalism education is unprofessional conduct by medical educators, which is protected by an established hierarchy of academic authority. Students feel no such protection, and the current structure of professionalism education and evaluation does more to harm students’ virtue, confidence, and ethics than is generally acknowledged.
The authors maintain that deficiencies in the learning environment, combined with the subjective nature of professionalism evaluation, can leave students feeling persecuted, unfairly judged, and genuinely and tragically confused. They recommend that administrators, medical educators, residents, and students alike must show a personal commitment to the explicit professionalism curriculum and address the hidden curriculum openly and proactively. Educators must assure transparency in the academic process, treat students respectfully, and demonstrate their own professional and ethical behavior.
Students overwhelmingly desire to become professional, proficient, and caring physicians. They seek professional instruction, good role models, and fair evaluation. Students struggle profoundly to understand the disconnect between the explicit professional values they are taught and the implicit values of the hidden curriculum. Evaluation of professionalism, when practiced in an often unprofessional learning environment, invites conflict and compromise by students that would otherwise tend naturally toward avowed professional virtues.