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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Formation of medical student professional identity: categorizing lapses of professionalism, and the learning environment

Walter Hendelman1* and Anna Byszewski2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, ON K1H 8M5, Canada

2 Professor of Medicine, Director of Professionalism, undergraduate curriculum, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Division of Geriatrics, The Ottawa Hospital, Affiliate Investigator, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), Ottawa, Canada

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:139  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-139

Published: 9 July 2014

Abstract

Background

Acquiring the values of medical professionalism has become a critical issue in medical education. The purpose of this study was to identify lapses in professionalism witnessed by medical students during their four year MD curriculum, and to categorize, from the students’ perspective, who was responsible and the settings in which these occurred.

Methods

An electronic survey, developed by faculty and medical students, was sent to all students with two email reminders. It included quantitative responses and some open-ended opportunities for comments. All analyses were performed with SAS version 9.1.

Results

The response rate was 45.6% (255 of 559 students) for all four years of the medical school curriculum. Thirty six percent of students had witnessed or been part of an exemplary demonstration of professionalism; 64% responded that they had witnessed a lapse of professionalism. At the pre-clerkship level, the most frequent lapses involved students: arrogance (42.2%), impairment (24.2%), followed by cultural or religious insensitivity (20.5%). At the clerkship level of training, where students are exposed to real clinical situations, the lapses involved primarily faculty (including preceptor and clinician) or other staff; these included arrogance (55.3%), breach of confidentiality (28.3%), and cultural or religious insensitivity (26.6%); impairment involved mostly students (25.5%). These findings are analyzed from the perspective of role modeling by faculty and in the context of the learning environment.

Conclusions

Medical students witnessed a lapse of professionalism involving both fellow students as well as faculty and administrative staff, in several domains. Results from this study emphasize the importance of role modeling and the need for faculty development, to improve the learning environment. This study adds to the limited emerging literature on the forces that influence medical student professional identity formation.

Keywords:
Professional identity formation; Professionalism lapse; Learning environment; Student survey; Role modeling