Professing professionalism: are we our own worst enemy? Faculty members' experiences of teaching and evaluating professionalism in medical education at one school

Acad Med. 2010 Jun;85(6):1025-34. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181ce64ae.


Purpose: To explore clinical faculty members' knowledge and attitudes regarding their teaching and evaluation of professionalism.

Method: Clinical faculty involved in medical education at University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine were recruited to participate in focus groups between 2006 and 2007 to discuss their knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about teaching and evaluating professionalism and to determine their views regarding faculty development in this area. Focus groups were transcribed, analyzed, and coded for themes using a grounded theory approach.

Results: Five focus groups consisting of 14 faculty members from surgical specialties, psychiatry, anesthesia, and pediatrics were conducted. Grounded theory analysis of the 188 pages of text identified three major themes: Professionalism is not a static concept, a gap exists between faculty members' real and ideal experience of teaching professionalism, and "unprofessionalism" is a persistent problem. Important subthemes included the multiple bases that exist for defining professionalism, how professionalism is learned and taught versus how it should be taught, institutional and faculty tolerance and silence regarding unprofessionalism, stress as a contributor to unprofessionalism, and unprofessionalism arising from personality traits.

Conclusions: All faculty expressed that teaching and evaluating professionalism posed a challenge for them. They identified their own lapses in professionalism and their sense of powerlessness and failure to address these with one another as the single greatest barrier to teaching professionalism, given a perceived dominance of role modeling as a teaching tool. Participants had several recommendations for faculty development and acknowledged a need for culture change in teaching hospitals and university departments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Education, Medical*
  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Focus Groups
  • Knowledge
  • Professional Competence*
  • Professional Practice*
  • Teaching