Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

The profession of medicine

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 29 October 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1140
  1. K Calman
  1. Department of Health, Whitehall, London SW1A 2NS.
  • Accepted 12 October 1994

It seems timely to define the purpose of medicine and examine the concept of a profession. This paper does so in the wider context of health, values, in society, and the need to involve patients and the public as a whole. The author looks closely at what doctors do and concludes that making the diagnosis is a key element. The consultation is the building block for resource allocation. In addition to the diagnosis it sets out the prognosis and possible treatment and emphasises the importance of communicating these to the patient. Looking at the king of doctor we need raises such issues as ethical standards, continuing professional development, team working, clinical standards, quality, outcomes, and research and development. Throughout, the role of education is seen as crucial. Leadership and vision are required by senior members of the profession if the opportunities presented are to be developed further.

There is increasing public and professional interest in medicine, with questioning of professional standards and the quality of care. Public expectations of the level of service to be delivered are rising. It is timely, therefore, to review the role and purpose of medicine and the concept of a profession.

At the outset let me make it clear that the medical profession in Britain provides a service to individuals and the population which is the envy of the world. The commitment to provide such a service within the NHS is real and deeply held. Because of this the profession has nothing to fear by being open and encouraging debate on how services could be even better. And that is the thread which goes through this paper - that doctors provide one of the most valued services in Britain and are held in high esteem but will continue to do so only if they take …

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