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Open Access Highly Accessed Correspondence

Developing health science students into integrated health professionals: a practical tool for learning

Lorna Olckers1, Trevor J Gibbs2* and Madeleine Duncan3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Bute Medical School, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, UK

3 School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:45  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-7-45

Published: 15 November 2007



An integrated sense of professionalism enables health professionals to draw on relevant knowledge in context and to apply a set of professional responsibilities and ethical principles in the midst of changing work environments [1,2]. Inculcating professionalism is therefore a critical goal of health professional education. Two multi-professional courses for first year Health Science students at the University of Cape Town, South Africa aim to lay the foundation for becoming an integrated health professional [3]. In these courses a diagram depicting the domains of the integrated health professional is used to focus the content of small group experiential exercises towards an appreciation of professionalism. The diagram serves as an organising framework for conceptualising an emerging professional identity and for directing learning towards the domains of 'self as professional' [4,5].


This paper describes how a diagrammatic representation of the core elements of an integrated health professional is used as a template for framing course content and for organising student learning. Based on the assumption that all health care professionals should be knowledgeable, empathic and reflective, the diagram provides students and educators with a visual tool for investigating the subjective and objective dimensions of professionalism. The use of the diagram as an integrating point of reference for individual and small group learning is described and substantiated with relevant literature.


The authors have applied the diagram with positive impact for the past six years with students and educators reporting that "it just makes sense". The article includes plans for formal evaluation. Evaluation to date is based on preliminary, informal feedback on the value of the diagram as a tool for capturing the domains of professionalism at an early stage in the undergraduate education of health professional students.