Writing about professionalism is easy. It is easy to grab a dictionary and to scribble a few definitions on a page, but instead of doing this; I want to share with you some of my clinical practice experiences.
The diagnosis of one of my patients – Polytrauma due to five gunshot wounds – immediately left me ice cold. A lot of thoughts with regards to the cause ran through my mind. Seeing the patient with multiple tattoos on his body (including one identifying him as a gang member) made things even worse. I realised through this picture and by reading through his file, that this was indeed a gangster – someone who intend on hurting other people. I realised that I had to treat this gangster, just like I treat any other patient – without prejudice. Remaining professional was key – professional in the sense of giving this patient the best treatment I could possibly give him; treatment the same as any other patient; also professional in the sense of treating this patient as a normal human being. I must say, apart from challenging my professionalism, this situation challenged my morals and values as well. It was a rollercoaster ride where I discovered things about myself that I never knew. Needless to say, I successfully treated this patient, like any other. Treating him as a normal human being; talking to him as if nothing was wrong. This behaviour helped me as this patient later became more and more compliant and open to my suggestions with regards to treatment and his everyday life. He realised that I didn’t see him as a gangster, but rather another patient – which was a good thing.
According to Yusoff (2009), professional behaviour can be subdivided into four major categories. Which include: Professional behaviour towards oneself, towards the patient, towards colleagues, and towards the public.
Six elements of what professionalism is, was also explained in this article. It is said that the elements of professionalism and professional behaviour in the above mentioned four categories are connected and interrelated. I understand this by looking at the elements of professionalism as building blocks needed in order to succeed in all the aspects and categories of professional behaviour. The elements include:
1. Altruism – Do everything that is in the best interest of the patient,
2. Accountability – to the patient/ to society/ to the profession,
3. Excellence – By committing to lifelong learning,
4. Duty – Accepting the commitment of service,
5. Honour and integrity, and
6. Respect for others.
While treating the above mentioned patient, I tried to keep these elements in mind; using them as guidelines to make sure that I give this patient equal treatment.
My view of treating people (patients) in a professional manner has changed these last couple of weeks. I realised that treating patients in a professional manner, means to treat them as a normal human being. In other words, I learnt that it is important to connect with your patient, but to keep the necessary boundaries.
’The most common criticism made at present by older practitioners is that young graduates have thought a great deal about the mechanism of disease, but very little about practice of medicine – or, to put it more bluntly, they are too “scientific” and do not know how to take care of a patient.’ – Francis Paebody (1927). This quote from the article by Yusoff (2009) immediately grabbed my attention. By reading this, I realised that it is still a problem in the clinical setting, even though it is more than 75 years later. By reading this I realise that being a good physiotherapist not only requires knowledge and skill, but also professional behaviour; which allows one to actually “take care” of a patient without any judgement.
I want to round off by giving you my personal definition of professionalism developed through first hand experiences in the clinical setting – Integrity, respect, equality, enthusiasm, empathy and honesty; thus doing your profession proud and being “real”.
Yusoff, M. (2009). Professional behaviour: What does it mean? Education in medicine Journal, 1(1), 1-5.