Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice Teaching Rounds

Role modelling—making the most of a powerful teaching strategy

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 27 March 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:718
  1. Sylvia R Cruess, professor of medicine,
  2. Richard L Cruess, professor of surgery,
  3. Yvonne Steinert, professor of family medicine
  1. 1Centre for Medical Education, McGill University, 1110 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1A3
  1. Correspondence to: S R Cruess sylvia.cruess{at}

    Teachers need to be aware of the conscious and unconscious components of learning from role modelling, so that the net effect of the process is positive

    Key points

    • Role modelling is a powerful teaching tool for passing on the knowledge, skills, and values of the medical profession, but its net effect on the behaviour of students is often negative rather than positive

    • By analysing their own performance as role models, individuals can improve their personal performance

    • Strategies are available to help doctors become better role models:

      • Being aware of the impact of what we are modelling (be it positive or negative)

      • Protecting time to facilitate dialogue, reflection, and debriefing with students

      • Making a conscious effort to articulate what we are modelling, and to make the implicit explicit

    Educating future generations of physicians is one of the privileges and obligations of the medical profession. As an important part of this process, doctors historically have patterned their activities on those of practitioners whom they respect and trust. These have been called role models, “individuals admired for their ways of being and acting as professionals.”1 Both consciously and unconsciously, we model our activities on such individuals.2

    “ We must acknowledge . . . that the most important, indeed the only, thing we have to offer our students is ourselves. Everything else they can read in a book.” – D C Tosteson19

    Although role modelling is at the heart of “character formation,”3 medical students and junior doctors have observed that many clinical teachers are poor role models. In one study less than half of the teachers were identified as positive role models.4 In another, half of the clinical clerks and a third of the residents surveyed felt that their teachers were not good role models for doctor-patient relationships.1 Clearly, this …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription