Frances Dixon on medical professionalism

I was flicking through my Student BMJ the other day when I came across an article on Medical Professionalism. This is a subject that I have been thinking about recently, mainly as we have just had the first of our “Personal & Professional Development” sessions at medical school.

Being a medical student isn’t really like being a normal student. We are expected to behave as “professionals” at all times, which is really quite a lot to ask of a bunch of teenagers. I suppose that yes, we do have different, and perhaps greater, responsibilities than other students, but at the end of the day, we’re not doctors. Of course we should be expected to behave professionally when it’s necessary, i.e. turning up to teaching sessions and placements on time, and paying attention. But, when a student is disciplined for getting a bit too drunk and being sick in public (as happened to a friend of mine) it’s just too much. I seriously doubt that the people disciplining us never did something they regret as a student.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be disciplined at all. In fact, it would be lovely if our professors were a bit harsher, and actually told people off for talking in lectures. But, I just think that people forget how young we are, and expect too much from us. It is interesting that in the BMJ article, it says that 2nd years seem to show slightly more professional (or “conscientious”) behaviour than 1st years. My year were definitely not overly professional in our behaviour in our first year (2008-09). In fact, the new first years are now being registered frequently to check attendance, probably in response to our poor attendance levels last year. I don’t know if we are attending more lectures this year, so I can’t make a judgement on whether our professionalism has improved in this regard.

What I’m trying to say in this blog is that medical students have to lead a sort of double life. With regards to work and university, we have to behave professionally, like a doctor would. We must be punctual, attentive, responsible, willing to learn, and dress sensibly while on clinical attachment. Appearing professional in front of patients at all times is very important. But outside that, it’s ok to go to the pub, and enjoy ourselves too.

Frances Dixon is a medical student at Imperial College School of Medicine, London.