Importance of Undergraduate Professionalism

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Professionalism is a dynamic and relative concept that cannot be quantified but rather defined by attributes such as altruism, honor, and integrity (McLauchlan, Finn & Macnaughton, 2009). Furthermore, undergraduate professionalism has its own complexities being difficult to fully evaluate and problematic when attempting to measure. Professionalism is something that is embedded in an individual’s identity, it is grown through morals and is not something that can be taught and therefore can be difficult to reinforce. Some examples of professionalism regarding undergraduates include but are not limited to; abstinence from phone use, not breaching confidentiality, and being respectful of patients’ ethnicity and culture. Conversely, examples of workplace professionalism include coming to work well groomed, being conscientious of how you compose yourself, and keeping competency-based skills up to date.

To fully understand professionalism, we must first understand the meaning of the word profession. For example, paramedicine became a profession in NSW in 2018 by AHPRA, therefore, changing the dynamics of what it means to be “professional” in regards to the degree and its career counterparts (APHRA, 2018). Lastly, it is imperative that students learn from their mistakes from untoward incidents thus allowing them to grow and expand their knowledge. It is imperative that students learn how to conduct themselves in a professional manner before engaging in the industry as failing to do so would result in myriad ramifications. The meaning of professionalism is often observed in its absence such as when rules are broken or complaints are made but by this point often the damage has already been done. In accordance with the healthcare leadership alliance (LHA), professionalism is defined as the ability to cohesively couple personal and health conduct, allowing both ethical and professional standards to guide practice (Garman, Evans, Krause & Anfossi, 2006).

Professionalism in university is paramount to success given the ever-increasing standards and relentless governing principles in the health industry. Thus leading to the gradual development of an industry-ready professional (Gambescia & Sahl, 2015). Professionalism in medical professions is especially paramount as trust is at the forefront of health careers such as paramedicine and the paramedicine undergraduate degree as a whole. Some evidence suggests that students who lack professional traits will be more likely to be subjected to negative behavior post-grad or later in their careers, although more research is needed (McLachlan et al. 2009). Professionalism is difficult to define as it is ever-changing and relative to the situation and therefore it is important that students come into the degree with a baseline understanding of what it means to be professional and the consequences of disregarding this principle. The measurement of such a qualitative concept can be difficult and therefore a clear understanding of how professionalism can be measured must be outlined. Some examples of this include a list of ‘rules’ that undergraduate students must follow to be compliant, and a list of ‘instant fail criterion’ or consequences for not complying with the guidelines thus having disciplinary action pursued.

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Professionalism can be measured using explicit behaviors or lack thereof using a specific criterion to outline the expectations of the students. Some educators view professionalism as an embedded skill and are best left to the “hidden curriculum” for students to navigate themselves (Jackson, 1990). Phelps’ has developed three fundamental principles to constitute the meaning of professionalism: “responsibility, respect and risk-taking” also known as the three R’s model of professionalism (Phelps, 2006). A student must take responsibility for their actions, show respect to patients and preceptors and raise difficult questions to facilitate their student learning. Furthermore, professionalism can be measured using a satisfactory/ unsatisfactory feedback evaluation from preceptors who facilitate student learning whilst at the various placement locations. This could be achieved using a student feedback form in which the preceptor can give comments on where the student behaved appropriately and where there was a breach of professionalism. Although prevention is better than cure and ideally professionalism would be displayed throughout the entirety of the placement as opposed to engaging in self-serving interests. Professionalism can be demonstrated in myriad ways through both actions and behaviors thus creating a clear line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Communication and learning play a key role in professionalism and are paramount for a successful career in the medical industry and its associated counterparts. A study conducted in 2015 found that the three domains for professionalism were weakest at the university level. The solution to this problem was to routinely examine major academic documents to ensure professionalism was well articulated (Gambescia & Sahl, 2015). Assumptions are most commonly formed within the first few minutes of meeting people (Day-Calder, 2016). Day-Calder gives some valuable insight into some examples of appropriate professional conduct as follows. “Never breach patient confidentiality, don’t friend people in your care, and do not post pictures of patients.” Such examples can guide undergraduate students whilst on their placement ensuring future employment and registration. Clearly stating these virtues is not the complete picture but is merely an impetus for student growth (Spicer, 2011). The result of these small acts of professionalism creates a vector to underpin patient trust. Conversely, a study conducted in 2009 demonstrates that students who displayed negative behaviors were often seen as professional on other placements. Therefore, it can be said that staff members can be subjective and negative behavior is not always consistent (McLauchlan., 2009). Professionalism is essential in the context of preparation for entry into the profession. The status of being a professional is not a right but a privilege given to individuals by society based on past and present presumptions.

The maintenance of such a notion is imperative and is dependent upon the public knowledge of professionalism. To gain this professional status medical practitioners must gain not only patients but also society's trust. To obtain this status professionalism must be taught early and reinforced regularly (Cruess & Cruess, 1997). It is often asked why professionalism is important and why it is so extensively emphasized in university curriculum and there is great variation in answers given therefore it will be defined accordingly (Dalton & Phelps, 2013). It is imperative that students learn to conduct themselves in a professional manner before industry participants as the ramifications could negatively impact themselves, the industry, and the patients involved. One governing factor is paramedics' registration which keeps the individual accountable and therefore keeps the patient safe. There are several frameworks in place to maintain clinical governance and professionalism in the paramedic profession. Similarly, professionalism is evoked from a young age and must be reinforced with strict guidelines in the undergraduate study whether that be clearly outlining the expectations or having consequences for breaching such guidelines as both the student and educational facility must maintain their integrity and thus professionalism in itself. It can be argued that professionalism must be taught and engrained before starting in the workforce and this notion is especially relevant regarding undergraduate study as with placement comes many opportunities and potential employers can see the future workforce. Therefore, in university professionalism should be at the forefront of placement and the degree as a whole so students can be work ready following graduation.

Student professionalism is a dynamic and relative concept that cannot be quantified and therefore is very difficult to measure and even more difficult to teach. Professionalism in the health industry is imperative with the exponential rise in consumerism and ever-growing health outcomes. Advanced health professional academics have developed ways to instill professionalism in students for clinical training. It is incumbent upon health science degrees such as paramedicine to instill professionalism in their associated students as it is expected for the academic formation and legal entry into the professions. Student professionalism is difficult to measure due to its ever-changing nature although the thorough checking of academic documents, reporting of supervisors on the student’s progress, and application of due discipline are vital for success. There is a clear contrast between appropriate and inappropriate student conduct although some grey areas do exist especially so for those who have just entered into tertiary study. Some examples of this would include abstinence from phone use, being well-dressed and groomed, and speaking professionally to staff and patients alike. Lastly, it is of utmost importance that students learn how to conduct themselves in a professional manner before graduation and entry into the workforce as without professionalism it would be near impossible to gain employment. Therefore, it can be said that undergraduate professionalism is at the forefront of success in the workforce and therefore must be instilled early in tertiary education.

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Importance of Undergraduate Professionalism. (2023, July 11). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from
“Importance of Undergraduate Professionalism.” Edubirdie, 11 Jul. 2023,
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