Interprofessional professionalism: Linking professionalism and interprofessional care

By | 3rd October 2011

Professionalism has typically been defined as a set of non-cognitive characteristics (such as empathy) or as a set of humanistic values and behaviors through which clinicians express a commitment to excellence and compassion (Stern, 2006). Its importance is underscored by the widespread adoption of language and policies by associations, accreditors, and regulatory agencies across the health professions that require clinicians to be trained and assessed on professionalism (Greiner & Knebel, 2003). Yet, a critical conceptual gap remains in defining how professionalism contributes to improved patient outcomes, especially in the context of interprofessional care environments.

Elucidation of the link between professionalism and interprofessional care is an important issue to examine. Although contemporary clinicians do not practice in social isolation, development of the professionalism concept has neglected its link to collaborative care. In the contemporary context, professionalism contributes to safe, high-quality care primarily by supporting and fostering effective interprofessional care (Gilbert, Yan, & Hoffman, 2010). We believe that persistent disciplinary insularity in health professions education has prevented this connection from being adequately emphasized.

In 2006, representatives of seven American national professional and educational groups convened to explore the concept of professionalism that could transcend and bridge the health-care professions. The group’s initial motivation was to identify or develop public-domain educational and assessment tools to promote professionalism. The group quickly recognized that there were many parallel, overlapping efforts to support professionalism within professions, but that little work had been done to develop a shared professionalism framework across professions. By 2009, the group expanded to 11 organizations representing 10 doctoral health professions: optometry, dentistry, psychology, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, audiology, nursing, and allopathic and osteopathic medicine. Currently, this group is called the Interprofessional Professionalism Collaborative (IPC).

The IPC began to focus on defining interprofessional professionalism and identifying its behavioral components. Though the group was kept small to foster interaction, collaboration, and consensus-building, an effort was made to include a broad range of health professions to ensure the generality of the resulting model. It was expected that there would be opportunities for feedback and contributions from other professions through presentations, discussions, surveys, and publications.

M.C. Holtman, J.S. Frost, D.P Hammer, K. McGuinn, & L.M. Nunez

For more information, see: Journal of Interprofessional Care, Sept 2011, Vol. 25 (5). P 383-5.