JOURNAL ARTICLE

Get on your boots: preparing fourth-year medical students for a career in surgery, using a focused curriculum to teach the competency of professionalism

Charles S Hultman, Annamarie Connolly, Eric G Halvorson, Pamela Rowland, Michael O Meyers, David C Mayer, Amelia F Drake, George F Sheldon, Anthony A Meyer
Journal of Surgical Research 2012, 177 (2): 217-23
22878148

INTRODUCTION: Few educational programs exist for medical students that address professionalism in surgery, even though this core competency is required for graduate medical education and maintenance of board certification. Lapses in professional behavior occur commonly in surgical disciplines, with a negative effect on the operative team and patient care. Therefore, education regarding professionalism should begin early in the surgeon's formative process, to improve behavior. The goal of this project was to enhance the attitudes and knowledge of medical students regarding professionalism, to help them understand the role of professionalism in a surgical practice.

METHODS: We implemented a 4-h seminar, spread out as 1-h sessions over the course of their month-long rotation, for 4th-year medical students serving as acting interns (AIs) in General Surgery, a surgical subspecialty, Obstetrics/Gynecology, or Anesthesia. Teaching methods included lecture, small group discussion, case studies, and journal club. Topics included Cognitive/Ethical Basis of Professionalism, Behavioral/Social Components of Professionalism, Managing Yourself, and Leading While You Work. We assessed attitudes about professionalism with a pre-course survey and tracked effect on learning and behavior with a post-course questionnaire. We asked AIs to rate the egregiousness of 30 scenarios involving potential lapses in professionalism.

RESULTS: A total of 104 AIs (mean age, 26.5 y; male to female ratio, 1.6:1) participated in our course on professionalism in surgery. Up to 17.8% of the AIs had an alternate career before coming to medical school. Distribution of intended careers was: General Surgery, 27.4%; surgical subspecialties, 46.6%; Obstetrics/Gynecology, 13.7%; and Anesthesia, 12.3%. Acting interns ranked professionalism as the third most important of the six core competencies, after clinical skills and medical knowledge, but only slightly ahead of communication. Most AIs believed that professionalism could be taught and learned, and that the largest obstacle was not enough time in the curriculum. The most effective reported teaching methods were mentoring and modeling; lecture and journal club were the effective. Regarding attitudes toward professionalism, the most egregious examples of misconduct were substance abuse, illegal billing, boundary issues, sexual harassment, and lying about patient data, whereas the least egregious examples were receiving textbooks or honoraria from drug companies, advertising, self-prescribing for family members, and exceeding work-hour restrictions. The most important attributes of the professional were integrity and honesty, whereas the least valued were autonomy and altruism. The AIs reported that the course significantly improved their ability to define professionalism, identify attributes of the professional, understand the importance of professionalism, and integrate these concepts into practice (all P < 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS: Although medical students interested in surgery may already have well-formed attitudes and sophisticated knowledge about professionalism, this core competency can still be taught to and learned by trainees pursuing a surgical career.

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