Medical professionalism: can it, should it survive?

Edmund Pellegrino
Submitted: March, 2000

In today’s terms, deprofessionalization is usually equated with the drastic transformation of physicians in the last several decades into union-oriented corporate employees, on the one hand, and entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate executives, on the other. Profession is defined as the ethical constraints that require a group sharing a special body of knowledge to act with self-regulation and a commitment to assistance to others(the patient). However, professionalism is viewed as the self-interest of the group of workers, similar to how a labor union would view them. These contradicting definitions have resulted in the violation of medical ethics by physicians such as medicare fraud and the increased economic reality of medicine, as well as a new emphasis for a work-life balance. This has resulted in physicians who are conflicted between organization and patient. This shift has resulted in a debate about whether the end of ethics and professionalism is occurring and whether it is beneficial for the field of medicine. Some argue that the marketplace is the proper venue for healthcare and that patients will fare better with competition. But ultimately, professional ethics will not end. Physicians will recognize the moral foundations of professionalization in the vulnerability of sick persons and the necessity to act in the patient’s best interests rather than the physician