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Gender Issues and Professionalism

Gender issues in medical education are linked with professionalism.

Professionalism in medicine includes subordinating one’s own interests to those of the patient, serving as a patient advocate, and always considering the needs of the patient[3]. It includes beneficence and nonmaleficence, adhering to high ethical standards, accountability, and dedication to community and societal needs[3]. Inherent in societal needs is a recognition of the non-biological determinants of health, including gender.

"Physicians evince core humanistic values, including honesty and integrity, caring and compassion, altruism and empathy, respect for others, and trustworthiness. Some might argue that humanistic values are not requisite to professional behavior, that a physician can exemplify professionalism without humanism. Yet values such as compassion, altruism, integrity, and trustworthiness are so central to the nature of the physician’s work, no matter what form that work takes, that no physician can truly be effective without holding deeply such values. The practice of medicine is a human endeavor. To address the needs of their patients, physicians must ensure that humanistic values remain central to their professional work[3]."

The above statements are perhaps daunting for a medical student, but just as we expect to be treated in a professional and respectful manner by others, so too must medical students recognize the professional expectations and obligations placed upon us by each other, our colleagues, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, our patients and society.

It is unfortunate that, despite clear statements of professional standards, medical students are often vulnerable to mistreatment within the dense hierarchy of medical training. The majority of medical students experience some form of abuse or intimidation, especially verbal, at some point during their education[1]. The power differential is especially evident during clerkship years. Most students abused during medical training do not file reports, even though the evidence indicates that acknowledging the abusive or harassing behaviour does not worsen the situation[1]. The incidence of sexual harassment is reported more by females by males[1].

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How can faculty and administration address this?

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1. F. Chan and B. Lent. (2004) Resource Material for Clerkship Session on "Dealing with Equity, Gender and Preofessionalism Issues in Medicine". University of Western Ontario.

3. H.M. Swick (2000). Toward a normative definition of medical professionalism. Academic Medicine 75: 612-616.

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