As medicine is a profession and physicians are professionals, it is important to have a clear understanding of what is meant by "professionalism."
The words "profession" and "professional" come from the Latin word "professio," which means a public declaration with the force of a promise. Professions are groups, which declare in a public way that their members will act in certain ways and that the group and the society may discipline those who fail to do so. The profession presents itself to society as a social benefit and society accepts the profession, expecting it to serve some important social goal.
competence - in a specialized body of knowledge and skill;
duties and responsibilities - toward the individuals it serves and society;
right to train, admit, discipline and dismiss - its members for failure to sustain competence or observe the duties and responsibilities.
What is the difference between a profession and a business?
The line between a business and a profession is often not clear, since professionals may engage in business and make a living by it. One crucial difference, however, distinguishes them: professionals have a fiduciary duty toward those they serve i.e. professionals have a particularly stringent duty to assure that their decisions and actions serve the welfare of their patients/clients, even at some cost to themselves. Professions have codes of ethics, which specify the obligations arising from this fiduciary duty. Ethical problems often occur when there appears to be a conflict between these obligations or between personal goals and fiduciary duties.
What are the recognized obligations and values of a professional physician?
Professionalism requires that one strive for excellence in the following areas which should be modeled by mentors and teachers and become part of the attitudes, behaviors, and skills integral to patient care:
Altruism: A physician is obligated to attend to the best interest of patients, rather than self-interest.
Accountability: Physicians are accountable to their patients, to society on issues of public health, and to their profession.
Excellence: Physicians are obligated to make a commitment to life-long learning.
Duty: A physician should be available and responsive when "on call," accepting a commitment to service within the profession and the community.
Honor and integrity: Physicians should be committed to being fair, truthful and straightforward in their interactions with patients and the profession.
Respect for others: A physician should demonstrate respect for patients and their families, other physicians and medical students.
Although there may be circumstances that hinder adherence to these values, they should provide a guideline for promoting professional behaviour and making difficult ethical decisions