Sound treatment 1

July 23, 2009

If you ask people what makes a good doctor, they will say good communication skills, empathy and trustworthiness. In the UK, such trust is earned by the display of values and attributes exemplified by professional codes, especially the General Medical Council's Good Medical Practice principles ("Medics riled by tests of professional behaviour", 9 July).

There is evidence that these skills, attributes and values do not come about by accident, but need to be developed through a supportive curriculum. To help students develop these skills and reflect on their shortcomings, we must find ways of assessing professionalism in medical education. This is not straightforward, and the work of John MacLachlan and his team at Durham University is making a valuable contribution to the debate.

No one suggests that these assessments should be used in isolation, but the British public want to be reassured that medical schools have robust methods for weeding out students who are not able to display behaviour worthy of this very demanding profession.

Helen O'Sullivan, Director, Centre for Excellence in Developing Professionalism, School of Medical Education, University of Liverpool.

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