In recent years there has been a push to teach professionalism to medical students, and this is in part a response to a perceived decrease in respect for physicians by the general public. Much of the emphasis on teaching professionalism has been on treating patients with respect, and placing the needs of the patient over our own needs. I support this effort, but I would like to emphasize a different aspect of professionalism that seems to get less attention: the relationship we have with our colleagues. The duty of professionalism arises because medicine is a profession—we profess an oath to become members, we perform a task held in high regard by the public, and we promise to self-regulate. Given that this is the nature of medicine, we can easily now say something about how we must treat our colleagues to best uphold our oath and to best maintain the reputation of our vocation. For Aristotle, a virtue is often found as the mean between two excesses which are vices, and I think this model is appropriate for determining the virtuous, professional way we should treat our colleagues: show respect, but do not protect incompetence or misbehavior. Put another way, we have dual duties to respect our colleagues, but also to protect our patients. When these duties come into conflict, patients must come first, but we must also remember that failing to respect colleagues has negative effects on both the status of our profession, and on patient care itself.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.