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Pulse - Fall 2022 The Evolution of Professionalism in Healthcare Conference: Improving Interactions to Enhance Care

By Paulina Jayne Isaac

Professionalism is important in any industry. But those in the medical community know it’s essential to providing quality health care. Professional interactions between medical colleagues, as well as between providers and patients, smooth the communication process, build trust and respect, and uphold confidentiality, all of which contribute to quality health care. In addition to its importance for patients, a person’s level (or lack thereof) of professionalism could make or break their career, which is why the Academy for Professionalism in Health Care (APHC) held a conference at Drexel University from June 1 to 3, 2022. The goal of the conference was to inform attendees about how to optimize patient care through professionalism education, scholarship, policy and practice in all health-related fields to ensure excellence and patient well-being.

Dennis Novack, MD, a professor of medicine and associate dean of medical education, knew that Drexel University was the obvious choice to host the conference because of the school’s commitment to professionalism throughout all four years of the MD curriculum. “The university is a national leader in medical, educational and interprofessional professionalism,” notes Novack, who is also the incoming president of the APHC.

2022 Academy for Professionalism in Health Care (APHC) Conference

Novack and Barbara Lewis, MBA, project director of Professional Formation at the College of Medicine, helped organize the hybrid conference, “The Evolution of Professionalism in Healthcare: Moving Towards an Interprofessional Future | Celebrating 10 Years of APHC.” It attracted 243 individuals from 16 countries, with approximately 80 people attending in person. Lori O’Connell, manager of education resources, and her team — Breanna Ruiz, Dave Ross and Steve Levandoski — provided virtual access for more than 160 online attendees.

The positive response to the conference is a testament to the 13 informative oral presentation sessions, eight workshops, three problem-solving sessions, two roundtables, two panels and a debate. Attendees participated in the conference from a variety of countries. “I think the success was partly due to the hybrid nature of the conference,” says Novack. “Most people hadn’t been to a conference where they sat in a room with people from all over the world, attending virtually in their home countries. I think that was tremendous fun for people. We also had great speakers.”

Holly Humphrey, president of the Josiah Macy Foundation, was a keynote speaker. The foundation aims to prepare future health professionals to provide care in the 21st century to a population that is the most diverse in U.S. history and who may live longer than any previous generation, which is fitting since diversity is a central component of professionalism. Health care workers need to know how to work with and interact with members of a variety of cultures and communities.

Part of Drexel’s curriculum focuses on teaching students how to handle ethical issues around diversity. When speaking about the importance of professionalism, Novack references a 2004 paper written by Maxine Papadakis, MD, a professor of medicine, emeritus, at the University of California, San Francisco and a practicing internist at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, and colleagues in her department at UCSF. It studied students who were disciplined for lapses in professionalism during medical school. The paper looked at those students 10 years later, comparing them to students who didn’t have unprofessionalism citations. The students who were cited were three times more likely to be penalized by their state medical boards and to lose their licenses or have them suspended. In other words, if a student is unprofessional in medical school, there’s a good chance they will be unprofessional in practice, and that’s going to undermine patient care and potentially lead to the loss of their license. These findings underscore the value of teaching professionalism during medical school and how the concepts must continue into a health care professional’s career to ensure optimal patient care.

“The emphasis on professionalism is also in some ways a reaction to the fact that medical education has become very knowledge-based and fact-based,” says Novack. “There are so many facts and skills that students have gotten overwhelmed and burnt out. There are studies that show that empathy decreases over the course of medical education. This is the opposite of what we want to happen. To combat this, all students participate in small group discussions about their professional development throughout the year. We found that by the end of the third year, students’ empathy was preserved, and their self-reflective abilities had improved.”

The Evolution of Professionalism in Healthcare is just one part of Drexel’s commitment to teaching professionalism, not only as a core part of the MD curriculum, but also to health care providers around the world.

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