Professionalism rests upon a number of individual, environmental, and societal level factors, leading to specific professional behavior in specific situations. Focusing on professional lapses to identify and remediate unprofessional physicians is incomplete. We explored professionalism in practicing internal medicine physicians in the context of everyday practice, to highlight how typical experiences contribute to positive, yet often unnoticed, professional behavior.
In-depth interviews were used to uncover 13 physicians' most meaningful experiences of professionalism. Data were collected and analyzed using a grounded theory approach.
Results revealed several themes around which physicians embody professionalism in their daily lives. Physicians feel most professional when they are able to connect and establish trust with patients and colleagues and when they serve as positive role models to others. Physicians conceptualize professionalism as a dynamic and evolving competency, one that requires a lifelong commitment and that provides opportunities for lifelong learning.
Focusing on actual perceptions of experiences in practice offers important insights into how physicians think about professionalism beyond a traditional remediation and lapses perspective. Physicians often go out of their way to connect with patients and colleagues, serving and modeling for others, often at the expense of their own work-life balance. These moments help to infuse energy and positivity into physician practices during a time when physicians may feel overburdened, overscheduled, and overregulated. Understanding professionalism as developmental helps frame professionalism as a lifelong competency subject to growth and modification over time.