Editorials

Understanding the role of the doctor

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a3035 (Published 18 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3035
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. fgodlee{at}bmj.com

    A united view from the profession brings us closer

    What is the role of the doctor? So asked Sir John Tooke, chair of the Medical Schools Council, in last year’s inquiry into UK doctors’ specialist training.1 As Tooke said, without clarity on the doctor’s role, we can’t know how best we should select, educate, and train doctors, or plan the future medical workforce. We have now received the profession’s answer—a consensus statement endorsed by a consortium of leaders of UK medicine.2

    This isn’t the first attempt to define what it means to be a doctor. Nor will it be the last. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is updating its definition (box), and the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development are drawing up their own. Many forces have converged to prompt these efforts: sociopolitical changes; scientific and technical progress; the end of deference and the democratisation of knowledge; the rise of chronic disease; and the shift to multidisciplinary working, including role substitution and the extended role of nurses.

    These were among the factors that prompted the Royal College of Physicians’ 2005 inquiry into the meaning of professionalism. Its report defined professionalism as “a set of values, behaviours, and relationships that underpins the trust the public has in doctors.”3 …

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