Education And Debate

How important are role models in making good doctors?

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7366.707 (Published 28 September 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:707
  1. Elisabeth Paice (epaice@londondeanery.ac.uk), dean director,
  2. Shelley Heard, postgraduate dean,
  3. Fiona Moss, associate dean.
  1. London Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education, University of London, London WC1N 1DZ
  1. Correspondence to: E Paice
  • Accepted 12 August 2002

The use of teaching staff as role models for professional behaviour has long been an informal part of medical training. The authors consider whether role models can still be an effective means of imparting professional values, attitudes, and behaviours in a health service that is increasingly sensitive to society's expectations

Role models—people we can identify with, who have qualities we would like to have, and are in positions we would like to reach—have been shown as a way to inculcate professional values, attitudes, and behaviours in students and young doctors. 1 2 Because good role models are seen as important in the making of a good doctor, we need to know more about them. What are the attributes young people look for in role models? Are these the attributes they really emulate? How do they react when they find that seniors lack these attributes? We consider these questions and whether we should rely on role models as a mechanism for developing doctors who are more patient centred and ethically sensitive.

Summary points

  • Students and young doctors identify enthusiasm, compassion, openness, integrity, and good relationships with patients as attributes they seek in their role models

  • They are also drawn to senior figures who embody responsibility and status

  • Some senior doctors show poor attitudes and unethical behaviour, causing confusion, distress, and anger in young doctors and students under their supervision

  • Role models may not be a dependable way to impart professional values, attitudes, and behaviours

  • Professional behaviour and ethics should be explicitly taught through peer group discussion, exposure to the views of people outside medicine, and access to trained mentors

What qualities do students and young doctors look for in role models?

The attributes of medical role models have been the subject of several interesting studies. Wright and colleagues looked at physicians who had been identified as excellent role models by students and residents.3– …

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