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Open Access Research article

Developing personal attributes of professionalism during clinical rotations: views of final year bachelor of clinical medical practice students

Nontsikelelo Mapukata-Sondzaba1*, Ames Dhai2, Norma Tsotsi2 and Eleanor Ross3

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rural Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg 2193, South Africa

2 Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

3 Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:146  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-146

Published: 16 July 2014



Medical professionalism as a set of behaviours that transcends personal values, beliefs and attitudes to incorporate ethical and moral principles is considered a covenant between society and the practice of medicine. The Bachelor of Clinical Medical Practice (BCMP) a three year professional degree was launched at the University of the Witwatersrand in January 2009 in response to a documented shortage of doctors especially in the rural areas of South Africa. The BCMP programme is unique in its offering as it requires a teaching approach that meets the needs of an integrated curriculum, providing for an accelerated transition from the classroom to the patient’s bedside.


Following five week attachments in designated District Education Campuses, 25 final year BCMP students were required to reflect individually on the covenant that exists between society and the practice of medicine based on their daily interactions with health care workers and patients for three of the five rotations in a one page document. A retrospective, descriptive case study employed qualitative methods to group emerging themes from 71 portfolios. Ethical clearance was obtained from the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of the Witwatersrand.


As an outcome of an ethical analysis, the majority of BCMP students reflected on the determinants of accountable and responsible practice (N=54). The commitment to the Oath became significant with a personalised reference to patients ‘as my patients’. Students acknowledged professional health care workers (HCWs) who demonstrated commitment to core values of good practice as they recognised the value of constantly reflecting as a skill (n=51). As the students reflected on feeling like ‘guinea pigs’ (n=25) migrating through periods of uncertainity to become ‘teachable learners’, they made ethical judgements that demonstrated the development of their moral integrity. A few students felt vulnerable in instances where they were pressured into ‘pushing the line’.


Through their portfolio narratives, BCMP students showed a willingness to shape their evolving journeys of moral growth and personal development. This study has highlighted as an ongoing challenge the need to identify a process by which professionalism is sustained by HCWs to benefit health sciences students.

Professionalism; Personal attributes; Health sciences students; Clinical rotations