Regardless of the industry or sector, a “professional” can be considered one who earns a living by practicing a vocation that requires a degree of skill, learning or science. However, being a professional is about more than being compensated for the skill, more than the education and credentials earned
to perform the skill.
Education and experience perfecting skills can provide a good foundation, but without appropriate conduct and mindset, they don’t add up to “professionalism.” True professionalism is characterized by behavior and attitude.
In healthcare, specialized knowledge and expertise are essential—medical professionals quite literally hold a patient’s life in their hands. But demonstrating professionalism in healthcare also requires the ability to communicate this expertise in an easy-to-understand way, with honesty, compassion, confidentiality and trust.
In defining “professionalism” within the healthcare setting, various medical colleges, accreditation and governing bodies set standards of professionalism for working in the field, often dictated by medical specialty.
In the report, “Doctors in Society: Medical Professionalism in a Changing World,” the UK’s Royal College of Physicians
defines professionalism in healthcare as: “A set of values, behaviors, and relationships that underpins the trust the public has in doctors.”
The report determined that those doctors and healthcare staff who demonstrate professionalism are committed in “day-to-day practice” to:
- Continuous improvement
- Collaboration with colleagues
Many of these values and behaviors are also specified in the “professionalism charter”
developed from the Medical Professionalism Project, a collaborative effort by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, the American College of Physicians Foundation and the European Federation of Internal Medicine. This professionalism charter has been adopted by many major professional physician organizations.
The patient—their safety, security and positive health outcomes—is ultimately why professionalism in healthcare is so important.
“Professionalism is an important component of medicine’s contract with society. Not only do we need to make good decisions for our patients based on the evidence in the literature, but we need to apply those decisions in a way that is professional and ultimately helps our patient,” writes Lynne M. Kirk
in the research report, “Professionalism in Medicine: Definitions and Considerations for Teaching.”
The need and expectation of professionalism at every level of healthcare are critical, and preparation and training extend to those healthcare professionals who may not work in patient-care roles, such as those in healthcare analytics and health informatics
“As with all other health professions, the work of health informaticians affects the health, safety, and effectiveness of those working and being cared for within the system of healthcare delivery,” states
the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) Accreditation Committee, part of the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information (CAHIIM).
For these reasons, professionalism should be emphasized even before an aspiring healthcare professional enters the field.
While accrediting bodies such as CAHIIM, medical colleges and boards may set standards and expectations of professionalism, as Lynne M. Kirk states, “Just presenting students with lists of what is involved in professionalism may be daunting,” and less than effective.
How can professionalism in healthcare go from being more than lists of rules and competency expectations to demonstrated actions that are second nature for healthcare professionals? By becoming practiced behaviors and ingrained values.
Recognizing what should be done and why can be black and white when demonstrating and evaluating cognitive skills and actions—either you gathered all the needed data, or you did not; either you followed procedure steps, or you did not.
Demonstrating competency in professionalism tends to go into the gray area of noncognitive skills, where evaluating effectiveness can easily become subjective and debatable.
For aspiring health informatics professionals, the AMIA/CAHIIM accreditation standards
guide educational institutions in evaluating graduates in both the hard cognitive skills, called Foundational Domains, and the noncognitive skills, called Graduate Level Domains.
Professionalism is one of the three Graduate Level Domains (along with Interprofessional Collaborative Practice and Leadership). An individual’s competency is measured by how they demonstrate knowledge, skills,
in the domain of Professionalism.
The AMIA Accreditation Committee expects a graduating student entering the field of heath informatics to be able to, “Define and discuss ethical principles and the informatician’s responsibility to the profession, their employers, and ultimately to the stakeholders of the informatics solutions they create and maintain.”
Demonstrating knowledge of ethical principles and responsibility can include recognizing that patient-provided personal information and health data receive the same protections as biomedical, health outcomes and patient care data, and that patients have the right to know what is in their electronic health records and how and when this information is used, as stated in AMIA’s Code of Professional and Ethical Conduct
Skills should “demonstrate professional practices that incorporate ethical principles and values of the discipline.”
The “values of the discipline” are very much driven by professional interactions and respect for others—patients, colleagues and employers. When put into action, the “professional practices” should ensure that protected patient health information and data are “transmitted, acquired, recorded, stored, maintained, analyzed, and communicated in an appropriately safe, reliable, secure, and confidential manner,” and that data usage is in legal compliance
with privacy and security policies, laws and informatics standards.
In working with colleagues and superiors, providing guidance and accountability to peers to ensure patient safety, privacy and data security is maintained and alerting superiors to potential information or systems issues that could lead to a data breach is expected. This includes communicating concerns in a professional, respectful way and avoiding gossip and uninformed criticism.
The new graduate entering the field should “demonstrate awareness of the value of information literacy and lifelong learning, maintenance of skills, and professional excellence.”
In this area, “professionalism” is demonstrated through a commitment to continual development as a health informatics professional and as contributor to the growth of the field. This can include mentoring students and junior colleagues, promoting inclusion and diversity within the workplace and the field, disseminating new knowledge and discoveries that can advance the field and encouraging “the adoption of informatics approaches supported by adequate evidence to improve health and healthcare.”
As stressed by the American Medical Informatics Association, “in health informatics, there is a particular emphasis on preserving the confidentiality, privacy, and security of patient and other health data and information and balancing it with appropriate stakeholder access.”
Therefore, the level of excellence expected of a health informatics professional is high, not just in their technical skills and knowledge but in the professional quality of their work and treatment of others—patients and colleagues alike.
An AMIA and CAHIIM accredited program in health informatics
will ground students in core competencies of the domain areas and prepare them to demonstrate professionalism in their healthcare careers.
See how the Master of Science in Health Informatics from USF Health can help to develop your professionalism and support your career goals.