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Am J Med. 2000 Feb;108(2):136-42.

Common issues in medical professionalism: room to grow.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver 80262, USA.



Much of the respect and trust that society grants to physicians is based on the expectation of upholding professional values. We performed this study to assess responses to common challenges to medical professionalism and to ascertain physician satisfaction with training in professionalism.


A self-administered questionnaire containing six challenges to professionalism (acceptance of gifts, conflict of interest, confidentiality, physician impairment, sexual harassment, and honesty) with multiple-choice responses was mailed to 528 medical students and 779 house officers at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and to 900 randomly selected Colorado physicians. Information about previous exposure to the issue depicted in the scenarios and satisfaction with, and site of, previous education in medical professionalism was obtained. An independent panel selected the best or acceptable answers to the challenges.


In all, 961 evaluable responses were received. More than 40% of physicians reported experience with four of the six challenges. The frequency of the best or acceptable answers to the six scenarios ranged from 12% to 86%. Best or acceptable responses were more common in physicians than in house officers, and in house officers than in medical students (P < 0.001). Practice setting and specialty type had only modest effects. The physician impairment scenario was the most challenging: Only 12% of physicians provided the best answer. Most (73%) respondents reported having 10 or fewer hours of formal course work in professionalism, and many (40%) were dissatisfied with their training in professionalism.


While everyday challenges to professionalism are commonly encountered by trainees and practicing physicians, many practitioners are dissatisfied with their training in this area and were unable to provide an acceptable answer to these challenges.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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