(Dec. 4, 2008)
Introducing oneself with a handshake and smile may seem common courtesy but medical schools across the country recently have been pushing professionalism as part of their curriculum.
Dr. Paul R.G. Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, gave an overview of professionalism in medicine during the second annual Jose G. Albernaz Golden Apple Distinguished Lecture held Dec. 3.
Sponsored by the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, the endowed lecture series honoring the pioneering neurosurgeon was created through an initial gift from his son, Dr. Marcus Albernaz, a surgeon with Eastern Carolina ENT-Head & Neck Surgery of Greenville.
Cunningham said the call for professionalism in medicine goes back 20 years, when the American Board of Medical Specialties began looking at general competencies for physicians including patient care, medical knowledge, interpersonal skills, practice-based learning and professionalism.
In 1998, the American Association of Medical Colleges conducted a study on professionalism and found close to 90 percent offered some type of formal instruction on the topic.
Why is it needed? Cunningham shared a letter to a newspaper editor in New York. A man had driven his wife to a doctor’s appointment 50 miles from their home, only to be told when he arrived that the appointment had been cancelled and he would need to bring his wife back the next day.
The American Medical Association joined in 2003 in recommending that professionalism be included in medical school training. Topics include honesty, integrity, selflessness, and ethical and moral standards.
“Most of these things I would take for granted,” Cunningham said. Being a professional is part of being a leader, he said.
Part of ECU’s mission is to distinguish itself by training and preparing leaders for the state and nation.
In Brody’s 29-county service area in eastern North Carolina, there are high rates of uninsured people with heart disease, HIV, gonorrhea and cancer. “We have ample opportunity for leadership in our mission at the Brody School of Medicine,” Cunningham said.
He challenged medical students to be their “best selves” and to display a high level of professionalism.
The elder Albernaz, whose contributions to his field were written about in the June 2002 issue of The Journal of Neurosurgery, was born in Brazil and attended the Federal University Medical School in the city of Belo Horizonte. He then traveled to Chicago to study neurology and neurosurgery. He returned to Brazil, where he was that country’s first American-trained neurosurgeon. In time, he became chairman of neurology and neurosurgery at the Federal University Medical School, started a modern medical residency program there in neurosurgery and helped found the Brazilian Society of Neurosurgery.
In 1968, Albernaz came to the United States to work as a professor at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo. There, Albernaz was twice awarded the Golden Apple Award for his dedication to students.