What is Professionalism?

“The good health care provider treats the disease; the great health care provider treats the patient who has the disease.” – adapted from Sir William Osler

A profession is “an occupation whose core element is work based upon the mastery of a complex body of knowledge and skills. It is a vocation in which knowledge of some department of science or learning or the practice of an art founded upon it is used in the service of others.

Its members are governed by codes of ethics and profess a commitment to competence, integrity and morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good within their domain.

These commitments form the basis of a social contract between a profession and society, which in return grants the profession a monopoly over the use of its knowledge base, the right to considerable autonomy in practice and the privilege of self-regulation. Professions and their members are accountable to those served and to society.”

The Core Principle of Professionalism include:

  • Accountability
  • Respect
  • Professional Behaviour and Attitude
  • Professional Development
  • Confidentiality
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Safety
  • Mindful and reflective approach to practice
  • Responsibility to self, including personal care

One of our central goals at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, is to help both students and faculty understand and embrace the values of medical professionalism, and continue to develop and refine their own sense of professional identity. Our sense of professionalism, or professional identity, is perpetually evolving; awareness of the factors that contribute to it will help guide its development.

It is the lack of professional conduct, not inadequate knowledge or technical skills, that leads to most complaints against health professionals. Unfortunately, the terms we use to explain professionalism are often abstract and, therefore, hard to characterize; altruism, integrity, compassion, and respect are concepts that may be difficult to measure in practice. We need to make the recognition of professionalism overt and tangible such that we may improve care for patients and satisfaction for health professionals.

This website was created to help you understand that professionalism is a key component to our practice as health professionals. Through provision of definitions, case vignettes, and references, we hope to provide you with some real tools that you may then use to reflect upon your own professionalism, and that of those who surround you. These resources may help you with coursework, challenges that you encounter in your clinical and research work, but they are also meant to help you to grow as a person.



1 "Profession": a working definition for medical educators. Cruess SR, Johnston S, Cruess RL. Teach Learn Med. 2004 Winter;16(1):74-6. Review.

PMID: 14987179


3 Defining professionalism from the perspective of patients, physicians, and nurses. Green M, Zick A, Makoul G. Acad Med. 2009 May;84(5):566-73

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819fb7ad

PMID: 19704188