Purpose: Medical trainees (interns and residents) and their clinical trainers need to be aware of the differences between positive and negative role modeling to ensure that trainees imitate and that trainers demonstrate the professional behavior required to provide high-quality patient care. The authors systematically reviewed the medical and medical education literature to identify the attributes characterizing clinical trainers as positive and negative role models for trainees.
Method: The authors searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, ERIC, and PsycINFO databases from their earliest dates until May 2011. They included quantitative and qualitative original studies, published in any language, on role modeling by clinical trainers for trainees in graduate medical education. They assessed the methodological quality of and extracted data from the included studies, using predefined forms.
Results: Seventeen articles met inclusion criteria. The authors divided attributes of role models into three categories: patient care qualities, teaching qualities, and personal qualities. Positive role models were frequently described as excellent clinicians who were invested in the doctor–patient relationship. They inspired and taught trainees while carrying out other tasks, were patient, and had integrity. These findings confirm the implicit nature of role modeling. Positive role models’ appearance and scientific achievements were among their least important attributes. Negative role models were described as uncaring toward patients, unsupportive of trainees, cynical, and impatient.
Conclusions: The identified attributes may help trainees recognize which aspects of the clinical trainer’s professional behavior to imitate, by adding the important step of apperception to the process of learning professional competencies through observation.