News and Commentary Advancing Medical Professionalism

Medical professionalism has been a core value of Alpha Omega Alpha since the society’s founding in 1902, and recently the board of directors of the society has discussed how the society can serve as a leader and a catalyst to improve medical professionalism. We wanted to better understand medical professionalism and professionalism issues, and learn about teaching and supporting research and scholarship related to medical professionalism. We also wanted to identify methods for evaluating aspects of professionalism, and find a leadership focus for AΩA in medical professionalism.

To learn more about medical professionalism, we sponsored and hosted an AΩA Think Tank Meeting on Medical Professionalism in July 2011. We brought together experts in medical professionalism to review and discuss the status of and challenges in the field. That meeting was based on the assumption that the last twenty years have seen good progress in defining professionalism and in devising charters, curricula, assessment strategies, and accreditation criteria. However, participants recognized that there has been insufficient evidence to inform best practices in medical professionalism. This is especially true for interventions and remediation strategies for those who demonstrate lapses in professionalism and professional behaviors. The meeting resulted in the publication in Academic Medicine of “Perspective: The Education Community Must Develop Best Practices Informed by Evidence-based Research to Remediate Lapses of Professionalism.” The meeting participants identified two issues as very important to medical professionalism: 1) How can we use existing data on professionalism remediation? 2) What new evidence is needed to advance approaches to remediation of unprofessional performance?

Participants also recommended that the education community focus on interventions and remediation by performing studies about improving medical professionalism when lapses occur, identifying best evidence-based remediation practices, widely disseminating those practices, and moving over time from a best-practice approach to remediation (which does not yet exist) to a best-evidence model.

This monograph, Medical Professionalism: Best Practices, is the result of a subsequent AΩA and Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation sponsored meeting in July 2013, Best Practices in Medical Professionalism. The two-day meeting was attended by scholars in medical professionalism and included presentations on aspects of medical professionalism, building cultures of medical professionalism, and dealing with lapses in professionalism.

As Dr. George Thibault, President of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, writes, “Assuring professionalism in the way we deliver health care is the single most important call to action, and one at which we must succeed if we are to maintain the sacrosanct covenant of public trust and demonstrate universally that we can live up to the promises and expectations of competency and ethical values—that we are indeed “Worthy to Serve the Suffering.”

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