Doctors feel there is a need for clearer understanding of their role

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Many doctors feel that there needs to be a clearer understanding of their distinct role in the increasingly multidisciplinary environment of the modern NHS where other health professionals are taking on expanded responsibilities for patients' care. According to a new report by The King's Fund and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) today's doctors are also keen to develop new and better relationships with patients, NHS managers, professional leaders and government.

Understanding doctors: harnessing professionalism reports on 10 national consultation events asking doctors to reflect on their own future and the future of medical professionalism. A 2005 RCP report Doctors in Society defined medical professionalism as 'a set of values, behaviours, and relationships that underpins the trust the public has in doctors', and this was used to facilitate discussion with patients, carers, nursing and allied health professionals, NHS Managers and medical students.

Some of the key issues arising from this consultation include a broad consensus that:

  • professionalism is not easily taught and assessed but is developed over time working alongside good role models
  • the information age has produced more informed patients who expect a different type of interaction with their doctor than in the past
  • medical professionalism is enhanced by a positive engagement and involvement in NHS management, and there should be opportunities for clinicians to pursue careers  that span medicine and management
  • medical leadership is an area to be addressed, with a need for the collective voice of doctors to be presented more strongly in public debates about issues of health and health care.

The changing role of doctors has not diminished their standing among the general public, as the results of an Ipsos MORI poll conducted on behalf of the RCP show. Trust in doctors, among adults in Great Britain, has been high since measurements began almost 25 years ago. Furthermore, 90 per cent of GB adults trust their doctor to give accurate information; and almost as many trust them to have their interests at heart, reflecting the continued importance which patients place on their relationship with their doctor when making decisions about their healthcare.

Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the RCP, said:

'Providing clarity of the doctor's role is a key challenge, and fundamental to taking medical professionalism to its next phase. This report supports the recommendations from Sir John Tooke's recent inquiry into Modernising Medical Careers to strengthening medical leadership, enabling the profession to develop new relationships with government, patients and the local community.'

Steve Dewar, Director of Funding and Development at The King's Fund, said:

'The world in which doctors work is changing. The information age has created more informed patients, meaning doctors' interaction with patients is less paternalist and more about partnership. We found that most doctors are motivated and enthused by the challenges presented to them by this new role.

'Many doctors told us that they are also looking for positive engagement with NHS managers. They understand that their professionalism means understanding management too and suggested that new career pathways may be required to allow individuals to practice both roles.'

Read the report: Understanding doctors: harnessing professionalism

Notes to editors

  1. 10 national consultation events took place between May 2006 and April 2007. The work is a partnership between the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Kings Fund. Jointly, we held events in Winchester, Bristol, Norwich, Swansea, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Plymouth and London.  Almost 800 people participated, of whom 406 were doctors.
  2. Download Understanding doctors: harnessing professionalism from The King's Fund website. The report is also available to download from the RCP website:
  3. Trust in Professions 2007 was conducted for the RCP by Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute. A representative quota sample of 1,981 adults aged 16+ in Great Britain was interviewed face-to-face in their homes, between 15 and 22 November 2007 in 210 sampling points, using CAPI methodology. Related work by Ipsos MORI for RCP on the definition of a physician was conducted among a representative quota sample of 2,044 adults aged 16+ in Great Britain, face-to-face in their homes, between 18-23 October 2007 in 191 sampling points. Data have been weighted to the known profile of the GB population.
  4. Doctors in Society: Medical Professionalism in a Changing World (RCP, 2005)
  5. For further details information and to arrange interviews, please contact:
  6. The Royal College of Physicians is a registered charity that aims to ensure high quality care for patients by promoting the highest standards of medical practice.  We provide physicians in the UK and overseas with education, training and support throughout their careers.  We are an independent body representing over 22,000 Fellows and Members worldwide, providing them with leadership, support and advocacy.  We also set standards in clinical practice and education and training, conduct assessments and examinations, quality assure external audit programmes, support doctors in their practice of medicine, and advise the Government, public and the profession on health care issue.
  7. The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.