What does professionalism mean for medical students?

We asked Amy Edwards from KCL Medical School  to share her thoughts on professional values for medical students. The GMC is reviewing its guidance for medical students and has launched a short survey for students to respond to by 9 January 2015.

My name is Amy Edwards and I am a third year medical student at King’s College London School of Medicine.

Medical students are enrolled on their courses at university in the same way as any other student, so why should we be expected to display professional values when other students don’t need to? Whether we like it or not, we are representing a profession that depends on the trust of the public. Our behaviour can impact on this both positively and negatively, regardless of whether or not we are in the clinical environment. We are in a privileged position, particularly as unqualified students, and we must respect that.

Medical students

“We may be students now, but it is the duty of every one of us to act responsibly and protect patients as much as it is any doctor’s.”

So why are we different to other students? We are the doctors of tomorrow, and there is a much higher professional expectation of us than other students. We have a greater responsibility than most other students, and often carry out tasks (usually under supervision) in the capacity of a qualified doctor. These can involve intimate contact, exchanging sensitive or personal information, and potentially hazardous and invasive procedures. It is therefore crucial that patients are able to trust us too.

The most trusted profession

Almost every year, doctors top the polls as the most trusted group of professionals, ahead of teachers, judges, clergymen and the police. However, trust takes years to build yet only seconds to destroy, which is why it is so important to maintain the reputation of doctors as trustworthy professionals. There are expectations of doctors that do not apply to other professionals, and similarly, expectations of medical students that do not apply to other students.

There are certain values that we should imbue right from day one of our studies, such as promoting and protecting health.

Other professional values become critically important as we begin to face patients:

  • We should always show honesty and integrity, listen and show respect towards patients.
  • As students it is vital that we are not afraid to raise concerns – in fact, we are in a very good position to do this as we are often outsiders to situations and have time with patients that doctors do not.
  • Whether as a student or a doctor, we must also remember to work within our competence – failure to do this could cause real risks to patient safety.

As a student, failing to adhere to these can be easily and innocently done. For example, I’ve heard of students tempted to not wear their ID badges so that patients assume that they are doctors and treat them differently. This could be meant with the best intentions – they may just be hoping to get a more comprehensive history – but while it may not cause physical harm, it could undermine the trust patients have in medical students.

We may be students now, but it is the duty of every one of us to act responsibly and protect patients as much as it is any doctor’s.

The GMC is reviewing its professional values for students – take part in a survey to give your feedback on these at www.gmc-uk.org/studentsurvey

Amy Edwards blog imageAmy Edwards is a third year medical student at King’s College London School of Medicine

One response to “What does professionalism mean for medical students?

  1. Pingback: Helping students get to grips with professional values | General Medical Council·

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