Viewpoint: Linking Professionalism to Humanism: What It Means, Why It Matters

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The terms professionalism and humanism are sometimes confused as being synonymous; even more confusing, each is sometimes regarded as a component feature of the other. The author argues that, in the context of medicine, the two terms describe distinctly different, albeit intimately linked attributes of the good doctor. Professionalism denotes a way of behaving in accordance with certain normative values, whereas humanism denotes an intrinsic set of deep-seated convictions about one’s obligations toward others. Viewed in this way, humanism is seen as the passion that animates professionalism. Nurturing the humanistic predispositions of entering medical students is key to ensuring that future physicians manifest the attributes of professionalism. Medical educators are encouraged to recognize the role of humanism in professional development and to incorporate into their curricula and learning environments explicit means to reinforce whatever inclinations their students have to be caring human beings. Chief among those means are respected role models who unfailingly provide humanistic care, ceremonies that celebrate the attributes of humanism, awards that honor exemplars of the caring physician, and serious engagement with the medical humanities to provide vivid insights into what a humanistic professional is.

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