Medical Education as Moral Formation: An Aristotelian Account of Medical Professionalism
Kinghorn, Warren A
Perspectives in biology and medicine 2010 Winter; 53(1): 87-105
The medical professionalism movement, bolstered by many influential medical organizations and institutions, has in the last decade produced a number of conceptual definitions of professionalism and a number of concrete proposals for its measurement and teaching. These projects, however laudable, are misguided when they treat professionalism as a unitary descriptive concept rather than as a contested and therefore primarily evaluative one; when they conceive professionalism as a domain of medical practice separable in principle from other domains; and when they treat professionalism as, in principle, a specifiable goal or product of sufficiently well designed educational curricula. The logic of professionalism-as-product corresponds to the logic of techne (art or practical skill) in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle provides a cogent argument, however, that the moral excellences denoted by "professionalism" cannot be "produced" or even prespecified in the concrete; rather, they must be acquired through long practice under the careful concrete guidance of teachers who themselves embody these moral excellences. Phronesis (practical wisdom) rather than techne must therefore be the guiding logic of educational initiatives in medical professional formation, with particular emphasis on close mentorship and on the moral character both of students and of those who teach them.
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