As dermatology residents, we have a lot on our plates. With so many diagnoses to learn and treatments to understand, the sheer volume of knowledge we are expected to be familiar with sometimes can be overwhelming. The thought of adding yet another thing to the list of many things we already need to know—least of all a topic such as dermatoethics—may be unappealing. This article will discuss the importance of ethics training in dermatology residency as well as provide helpful resources for how this training can be achieved.
Professionalism as a Core Competency
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) considers professionalism as 1 of its 6 core competencies.1 These competencies provide a conceptual framework detailing the domains physicians should be proficient in before they can enter autonomous practice. When it comes to professionalism, residents are expected to demonstrate compassion, integrity, and respect for others; honesty with patients; respect for patient confidentiality and autonomy; appropriate relationships with patients; accountability to patients, society, and the profession; and a sensitivity and responsiveness to diverse patient population.1
The ACGME milestones are intended to assess resident development within the 6 competencies with more specific parameters for evaluation.2 Those pertaining to professionalism evaluate a resident’s ability to demonstrate professional behavior, an understanding of ethical principles, accountability, and conscientiousness, as well as self-awareness and the ability to seek help for personal or professional well-being. The crux of the kinds of activities that constitute acquisition of these professional skills are specialty specific. The ACGME ultimately believes that having a working knowledge of professionalism and ethical principles prepares residents for practicing medicine in the real world. Because of these requirements, residency programs are expected to provide resources for residents to explore ethical problems faced by dermatologists.
Beyond “Passing” Residency
The reality is that learning about medical ethics and practicing professional behavior is not just about ticking boxes to get ACGME accreditation or to “pass” residency. The data suggest that having a strong foundation in these principles is good for overall personal well-being, job satisfaction, and patient care. Studies have shown that unprofessional behavior in medical school is correlated to disciplinary action by state licensing boards against practicing physicians.3,4 In fact, a study found that in one cohort of physicians (N=68), 95% of disciplinary actions were for lapses in professionalism, which included activities such as sexual misconduct and inappropriate prescribing.4 Behaving appropriately protects your license to practice medicine.
Thinking through these problematic ethical scenarios also goes beyond coming up with the right answer. Exploring ethical conundrums is thought to develop analytical skills that can help one navigate future tricky situations that can be morally distressing and can lead to burnout. Introspection and self-awareness coupled with these skills ideally will help physicians think through sensitive and difficult situations with the courage to hold true to their convictions and ultimately uphold the professionalism of the specialty.5
Self-awareness has the additional bonus of empowering physicians to acknowledge personal and professional limitations with the goal of seeking help when it is needed before it is too late. It comes as no surprise that how we feel as physicians directly impacts how we treat our patients. One study found that depressed residents were more than 6 times more likely to make medication errors compared to nondepressed colleagues.6 Regularly taking stock of our professional and personal reserves can go a long way to improving overall well-being.