What does it mean to be professional?

“Being a competent, professional health practitioner is a prerequisite for providing high-quality care to patients” (Jochemsen-van der Leeuw, van Dijk, van Etten-Jamaludin, & Wieringa-de Waard, 2013).

What does ‘professionalism in clinical practice’ actually mean? Epstein and Hundert (2002) defined ‘professional competence’ as the “habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, clinical reasoning, emotions, values, and reflection in daily practice for the benefit of the individual and community being served.” If I had to define professionalism I would simply put it as one’s conduct/behaviour within a certain environment. As students, and as future health practitioners, we are expected to consistently demonstrate professional behaviour – but what are these specific behaviours that demonstrate the principles of professionalism?

When it comes to patient care, one should develop a good rapport with the patient, but at the same time maintain professional distance. At all times, patients’ rights and dignity must be respected. Furthermore, health practitioners should be compassionate and empathetic, as well as inform and involve the patient and family members in their treatment regime. With regards to communication, one should be aware of their body language, tone of voice and facial expression, this not only pertains to patients (and their families) but to other members of the clinical team as well. One should position themselves on the same level as the patient – this will prevent factors such as inferiority vs. superiority. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not just treating a patient – you’re treating a human being, and this is why being professional means having/developing a humanistic attitude and treating patients by using a humanistic approach (Jochemsen-van der Leeuw, van Dijk, van Etten-Jamaludin, & Wieringa-de Waard, 2013).

Professional health practitioners should pay complete attention to their patients and have full intention of treating them equally and to the best of their ability. Being professional means to have or take responsibility for your decisions and actions, to not hide from your mistakes, and to acknowledge when you need help/assistance and therefore take initiative to ask for it from other members of the clinical team. Other attributes of being professional include, displaying a positive and enthusiastic attitude towards learning with a sense of eagerness, to be kind and respectful towards all medical staff and patients at all times, and lastly – be punctual at all times (Jochemsen-van der Leeuw, van Dijk, van Etten-Jamaludin, & Wieringa-de Waard, 2013).

My views of professionalism have stayed the same and haven’t exactly changed. However after reading the article (referenced in this post) and the obtained results , there was one specific attribute of professionalism (of what I thought was one the most important aspects) which I found quite interesting. Since first year, the topic of APPEARANCE has been drilled into us. Hair-tied up neatly, one-pair of earrings, no tattoos showing, black or white takkies. According to the article, appearance was among one of the least importance attributes.

In the above paragraphs it was very easy for me to say what I think professionalism is, but do I portray all these attributes within clinical practice? – probably not, definitely not. Professionalism is not something you can accomplish, concur or perfect within a day – it is an ongoing process.


Epstein, R. M., & Hundert, E. M. (2002, January 9th). Defining and assessing professional competence. JAMA, 287(2), 226-235.

Jochemsen-van der Leeuw, R., van Dijk, N., van Etten-Jamaludin, F. S., & Wieringa-de Waard, M. (2013, January ). The Attributes of the Clinical Trainer as a Role Model: A Systematic Review. Academic Medicine, 88(1), 1-9.

One Reply to “What does it mean to be professional?”

  1. I enjoyed reading your post and i have to agree with you. Our appearance has been deemed very important because we are professionals and society expects professionals to look a certain way. in my personal experience alot of the patients do not even look at your attire.

    Liked by 1 person

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