Professionalism under fire: Conflict, war and epidemics
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Today’s medical students (tomorrow’s doctors) will be entering a world of conflict, war and regular outbreaks of infectious diseases. Despite numerous international declarations and treaties protecting human rights, the last few decades has been fraught with reports of ‘‘lapses’’ in medical professionalism involving torture and force-feeding of detainees (e.g. captured during the War on Terror) and health care professionals refusing to treat infected patients (e.g. HIV and Ebola). This paper provides some historical background to the changing status of a physician’s duty to treat and how medical practitioners came to be involved in the inhumane treatment of detainees during the War on Terror, culminating in reports of ‘‘lapses’’ in professionalism. The Theory of Planned Behavior, which takes into account the individual, the environment and the social context, is used to explain the factors that might influence an individual’s behavior in challenging situations. The paper concludes with some recommendations for medical and health professions education. The recommendations include selecting students who, as a minimum, can provide evidence of ‘‘basic’’ professionalism, engaging them in exploring the history of the medical profession, exposing them to contexts of uncertainty and moral dilemmas and challenging them to reflect on their responses.
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