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The Conscientiousness Index: A Novel Tool to Explore Students’ Professionalism

McLachlan, John C. PhD; Finn, Gabrielle; Macnaughton, Jane MB, ChB, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819fb7ff

Purpose Measuring professional behavior is problematic not least because the concept of professionalism is difficult to define. The authors describe a measurement tool that does not rely on qualitative judgments from respondents but, nonetheless, clearly correlates with individuals’ subjective views about what constitutes professional behavior.

Method The authors devised the Conscientiousness Index (CI) of medical students’ performance in years 1 (n = 116) and 2 (n = 108) in 2006-2007. The CI scores were based on a range of objective measures of conscientiousness, including attendance and submission of required information (such as immunization status or summative assessments) by a deadline. The validity of this instrument was tested against (1) staff views of the professional behavior of individual students and (2) critical incident reports.

Results The trait of conscientiousness, as measured by the CI, showed good correlation with the construct of professionalism as perceived by staff views of individual students’ professional behavior. There was also a relationship with the frequency of critical incident reporting. Together, these observations support the validity of the approach. Reliability and practicality were also acceptable.

Conclusions The results suggest that the CI measures a scalar objective trait that corresponds well with professional behavior as perceived by staff members in an undergraduate medical school. The individual decisions making up the CI are objective and easy to collect, making it a relatively simple and uncontroversial method for exploring students’ professionalism.

Professor McLachlan is associate dean of undergraduate medicine, School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom.

Ms. Finn is a PhD student studying aspects of professionalism, School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom.

Dr. Macnaughton is codirector, Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom.

Correspondence should be addressed to Professor McLachlan, School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, Queen’s Campus, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BH, United Kingdom; telephone: 0044 (0)191 334 0515; e-mail: (

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges