Context: Professionalism is a hot topic in medical education, yet there is debate about what professionalism actually is. The reason is that medical educators primarily frame professionalism as a list of characteristics or behaviours. However, many sociologists of the professions favour more explanatory theories that incorporate political, economic and social dimensions into understanding of the nature and function of professionalism.
Objectives: This paper reviews a range of approaches used in the sociology of the professions to support the argument that medical education needs to reframe its priorities for research into, and the development of, professionalism in medical education.
Methods: The literature on the sociology of the professions was reviewed and summarised in relation to medical education.
Conclusions: A focus on individual characteristics and behaviours alone is insufficient as a basis on which to build further understanding of professionalism and represents a shaky foundation for the development of educational programmes and tools. Contemporary sociological literature on professionalism should have greater prominence in this domain.