The Evolving Nature of Medical Professionalism

Editor’s Note: Matt Katz, M.D., is a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Can doctors and other healthcare professionals adapt to connected world around them?   If we look at other periods of dramatic change, medicine has thrived.

Let’s step back 160 years to the mid to late 19th century:

Year(s) Advance Implication
1846 Ether used for anesthesia Birth of modern surgery
1858 Rudolf Virchow’s Cellular Pathology Overturned Galen’s humoral theory
1859 Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species Evolutionary theory
1860s Claude Bernard develops experimental medicine Scientific method
1870s Louis Pasteur develops germ theory, anthrax vaccine Microbiology
1895 Wilhem Roentgen’s discover of x-ray Quantum physics, imaging and cancer therapy
1899 Aspirin first produced by Bayer Birth of pharmaceutical industry

In that short time period, new scientific discoveries changed how we look at health and how we treat it.  It took until the early 1900s to crystallize a model in the U.S., the Flexner Report, but that approach to medical education for doctors helped guide the profession to many successes in the 20th century.

There are new challenges, and how healthcare professionals interact is one of them.  Early research shows that medical professionals are currently struggling to integrate social media use with the standards of medical professionalism.1-3    Guidelines are now available from multiple organizations, and Dr. Mark Ryan has a good review of this topic here.

It's still unclear how to strike the right balance between openness and tradiational medical professionalism.  But I am confident that we will find ways to adapt because we must – necessity is the mother of reinvention.  Perhaps not all social media tools will be helpful, but I think doctors and other medical professionals will evolve to remain relevant.  What do you think?


1 Chretien KC et al., “Online posting of unprofessional content by medical students”, JAMA 2009;302:1309-15

2 Thompson LA et al., “The intersection of online social networking with medical professionalism”, J Gen Intern Med 2008;23:954-7

3 Lagu T et al., “Content of weblogs written by health professionals”, J Gen Intern Med 2008;23:1642-6

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The Evolving Nature of Medical Professionalism
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