Doctors must increasingly be aware of what they should be, as well as what they should know. Professionalism, including a value system that supports the compassionate care of patients, is a means of encapsulating and prioritising these competing responsibilities. Accordingly, in this article, we assume that professionalism is an essential aspect of medical practice that needs to be taught to those entering medicine. We first describe critiques of professionalism and current challenges to it, in practice and in medical education. We then assess the current efforts of curriculum reform to incorporate professionalism and the methods used to teach it. Adopting and assessing such approaches to ensure that they are effective is of central importance in the education of future clinicians.