On Professionalism

I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;
I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life;
I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.

-The Declaration of Geneva

My white coat ceremony changed many things for me, most notably the responsibilities I would have moving forward. I recited the Declaration of Geneva, along with my fellow colleagues. The weight of the term “colleague” laid heavily on me; those who were once classmates were now colleagues. Classmates to colleagues, such a drastic, but intentional elevation in word choice. Many things are expected of me as a medical student, but one of the top priorities is the demand to carry myself as a professional.

Professionalism can mean treating others with respect, upholding a certain academic standard, or leaving personal issues in a personal space. Cultivating a professional attitude isn’t always easy. I have screwed this up several times, like disrupting class through meaningless chatter or allowing my personal dilemmas seep into my professional work. Regardless of the mistake, I always try to learn from my shortcomings. I believe that the majority of medical students strive to act as a professional when encountering difficulty in medical school.

Recently, I wondered how this professional attitude so quickly fades when we meet colleagues of different disciplines. Although my experience is mainly anecdotal, I think we have all heard of negative interactions between physicians and nurses, physicians and physician assistants, and so on. In medical school, some of us have participated in attempts to get medical and other professional students to interact at an earlier point in their training. I personally interacted with both nursing and physical therapy students during my first year of medical school. Although I thought the reasoning behind this choice was good, it didn’t work out exactly as planned. The medical students overheard a few nursing students talking negatively about the medical student cohort. Feelings got hurt and from there the overall atmosphere worsened.

Why did this happen? I believe we forget to act professionally when outside of our immediate, comfortable setting. We know a professional attitude is demanded between colleagues within our medical school, but we don’t often carry it over to other disciplines. Yes, you could argue that interacting with other disciplines at an early career stage helps break down some common stereotypes and issues, but will early interaction really solve everything? I’m skeptical.

I believe a constant effort must be maintained throughout our training; as I stated before, a professional attitude is not easily mastered. Regardless of one’s career stage, working harder at cultivating a professional demeanor among those in our field as well as among those in others will foster teamwork within medicine. If we, as medical professionals, hold ourselves to a certain standard, then catty arguments or negative comments will never be made, because we constantly demand higher of ourselves. Hopefully, by being more self-aware and practicing on a daily basis, we will create a professional attitude that won’t break down so easily when confronted with the newness of the ever-growing medical field.

Featured image:
teamwork staffetta by Luigi Mengato

Aleah Chang

Aleah Chang is a second year medical student at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Michigan. She graduated with a B.S. in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan in 2014. She currently serves as the Vice President of the OUWB American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) chapter and is involved in the Medical Student Government at OUWB. She plans to pursue a career in family medicine, pediatrics or OB/GYN.

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