Silent Witnesses: Faculty Reluctance to Report Medical Students’ Professionalism Lapses

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Abstract

Purpose

Assessing students’ professionalism is a critical component of medical education. Nonetheless, faculty reluctance to report professionalism lapses remains a significant barrier to the effective identification, management, and remediation of such lapses. The authors gathered information from faculty who supervise medical students to better understand their perceived barriers to reporting.

Method

In 2015–2016, data were collected using a group concept mapping methodology, which is an innovative, asynchronous, structured mixed-methods approach using qualitative and quantitative measures to identify themes characterizing faculty reluctance to report professionalism lapses. Participants from four U.S. and Canadian medical schools brainstormed, sorted, and rated statements about perceived barriers to reporting. Multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analyses were used to analyze these data.

Results

Of 431 physicians invited, 184 con-tributed to the brainstorming task (42.7%), 48 completed the sorting task (11.1%), and 83 completed the rating task (19.3%). Participants identified six barriers or themes to reporting lapses. The themes “uncertainty about the process,” “ambiguity about the ‘facts,’” “effects on the learner,” and “time constraints” were rated highest as perceived barriers. Demographic subgroup analysis by gender, years of experience supervising medical students, years since graduation, and practice discipline revealed no significant differences (P > .05).

Conclusions

The decision to report medical students’ professionalism lapses is more complex and nuanced than a binary choice to report or not. Faculty face challenges at the systems level and individual level. The themes identified in this study can be used for faculty development and to improve processes for reporting students’ professionalism lapses.

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