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Acad Med. 2011 Mar;86(3):378-83. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182086efe.

Perspective: Medical professionalism and medical education should not involve commitments to political advocacy.

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Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine and Birmingham VA Medical Center, Birmingham, Alabama 35294, USA.


It is increasingly suggested that political advocacy is a core professional responsibility for physicians. The author argues that this is an error. Advocacy on behalf of societal goals, even those goals as unexceptionable as the betterment of human health, is inevitably political. Claims that political advocacy are a professional responsibility are mistaken, the author argues, because (1) civic virtues are outside the professional realm, (2) even if civic virtues were professionally obligatory, it is unclear that civic participation is necessary for such virtue, and (3) the profession of medicine ought not to require any particular political stance of its members. Claims that academic health centers should systematically foster advocacy are also deeply problematic. Although advocacy may coexist alongside the core university activities of research and education, insofar as it infects those activities, advocacy is likely to subvert them, as advocacy seeks change rather than knowledge. And official efforts on behalf of advocacy will undermine university aspirations to objectivity and neutrality.American society has conferred remarkable success and prosperity on its medical profession. Physicians are deserving of such success only insofar as they succeed in offering society excellence and dedication in professional work. Mandatory professional advocacy must displace such work but cannot substitute for it. The medical profession should steadfastly resist attempts to add advocacy to its essential professional commitments.

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