Intended for healthcare professionals


Confronting unprofessional behaviour in medicine

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 07 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1025
  1. Jo Shapiro, director
  1. Center for Professionalism and Peer Support, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
  1. jshapiro{at}

Solutions will need to come from within the profession

Revelations about harassment and bullying in different working environments continue to make daily headlines. Medicine is not exempt: we have tolerated and continue to tolerate behaviour that harms each other, our patients, and our relations with society. The solutions will need to come from within the medical profession because the context and culture of our work are unique.

In a wider sense, the problem can be framed as one of professionalism in the workplace. Professionalism is an umbrella term to define behaviours that support trustworthy relationships. Unprofessional behaviours range from criminal, such as sexual assault; non-criminal but illegal, such as sexual harassment; and disruptive, such as bullying, which is not illegal but harmful and unacceptable. I will focus here on non-criminal behaviours.

Many people have examined the definition of medical professionalism as well as the sociological contexts and prevalence of unprofessional behaviour.123 But we face great challenges in preventing recurrent unprofessional behaviour. We …

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