Medical professionalism has become a core topic in medical education. As it has been considered mostly from a Western perspective, there is a need to examine how the same or similar concepts are reflected in a wider range of cultural contexts. To gain insights into medical professionalism concepts in Japanese culture, the authors compare the tenets of a frequently referenced Western guide to professionalism (the physician charter proposed by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, American College of Physicians Foundation, and the European Federation of Internal Medicine) with the concepts of Bushido, a Japanese code of personal conduct originating from the ancient samurai warriors. The authors also present survey evidence about how a group of present-day Japanese doctors view the values of Bushido.
Cultural scholars have demonstrated Bushido’s continuing influence on Japanese people today. The authors explain the seven main virtues of Bushido (e.g., rectitude), describe the similarities and differences between Bushido and the physician charter, and speculate on factors that may account for the differences, including the influence of religion, how much the group versus the individual is emphasized in a culture, and what emphasis is given to virtue-based versus duty-based ethics.
The authors suggest that for those who are teaching and practicing in Japan today, Bushido’s virtues are applicable when considering medical professionalism and merit further study. They urge that there be a richer discussion, from the viewpoints of different cultures, on the meaning of professionalism in today’s health care practice.