Economic constraints, profound changes in the healthcare system and insufficient educational expertise have gripped medical education. The objective of this study was to review professionalization of medical education and to contribute to an elaboration of a conceptual framework for understanding reforms. We developed a concept map based on information retrieved by searching the Medline/Knowledge Finder and the Cochrane Library databases. The descriptors used for the searches were 'certification, credentialing, education, faculty medical, quality assurance health care, research, staff development, teaching'. The endpoints for the study were: frequency, quality of studies and propositional content with regard to professionalization for developing a concept map. Thirty-one relevant studies were found in Medline.The Cochrane Library search returned no relevant studies. The evidence of the few studies was weak. The literature-derived concept map shows that faculty development is a prerequisite for certification leading to professionalization. Other related variables were resource allocation, intrinsic motivation to learn, educational research, study time, financial policy, organizational and staff development, and new specialized roles such as clinician-educator. It is concluded that professionalization of medical education is needed. This deficit underscores the need for conceptually sound research approaches. The concept of intrinsic motivation explains how to comply with scientifically based standards, thus fostering professionality. Approaches facilitating compliance, such as evidence-based learning, potentially professionalize the practice of medical education. Novel approaches such as quality management and best evidence medical education could professionalize medical education.