Role Models – Elements in Medical Education



Role models are faculty members who demonstrate clinical skills and articulate expert thought processes and manifest positive professional characteristics.
Mentors are faculty members with a formal professional relationship with the student.

A paper in the recent edition of Medical Teacher focuses on Doctors role modeling in medical education. (Passi et al., 2013). This systematic review from a total of 894 citations and data extraction of 39 full text articles summarizes the evidence currently available on role modeling by doctors in medical education.

The paper comments in detail about this important process for the professional development of medical students. High standards in clinical care, excellent teaching skills and personal qualities are the components for the development of professionalism in medical education. Positive role models help to emboss the development of the future physicians; negative role models can have strong consequences and teachers need to reduce this behavior, for example to reduce derogatory humor in clinical settings.

In the analyzed literature the following were identified as important components in role modeling:

  • Excellent level of clinical knowledge and skills
  • Patient-centered approach to care
  • Humanistic behavior
  • Personal attributes that included demonstrating empathy, respect and compassion
  • Effective interpersonal skills
  • Positive outlook
  • Integrity
  • Good leadership skills
  • Honesty
  • Enthusiastic behavior
  • Inspiring students
  • Establishing rapport with learners
  • Creating a supportive educational environment
  • Developing specific teaching methods
  • Committing to the growth of learners

This paper is demonstrating the recent status in the literature about the importance of role modeling for the development of high standards of professionalism in medical education. That has to be taken seriously because currently there are no evidence-based guidelines for the teaching of professionalism. Moreover there is no consensus amongst teachers regarding the best method to evaluate professionalism. Therefore it is more than important that teachers realize their impact with role modeling for the future physicians and on the recruitment of learners into medical specialties. In times of decreasing trainees in specialization, for instance in Ob/Gyn, clinical teachers have to be aware of their impact in recruitment and retention of learners into the specialty, this impact can be informal, unplanned and occur at any time. Individuals can learn from other individuals via observation, imitation and modeling.

Medical leaders need to develop strategies for faculty development initiatives to support a culture of excellence in role modeling. Clinical teachers can enhance their performance as role models by being more explicit about it in their clinical teaching by articulating what aspects they are modeling and by being more consciously aware of it.

This paper is an excellent overview about the recent knowledge in role modeling. One limitation that is recognized is the restriction in inclusion solely to studies written in English. Another limitation is that the paper only focused on role modeling by doctors and not other allied healthcare providers.

For further reading on this topic, consider:

  1. Passi V., Johnson S., Peille E., Wright S., Hafferty F., and Johnson N. Doctor role modeling in medical education; BEME Guide No. 27. Medical Teacher 2013; 35(9): 1422-1436.
  2. Lombarts KM, Heinemann MJ, Arah OA: Good clinical teachers likely to be specialist role models: Results from a multicenter cross-sectional survey. PLoS One 2010;5:e15202
  3. Weissmann PF, Branch WT, Gracey CF, Haidet P, Frankel RM: Role modelling humanistic behavior: Learning bedside manner from the experts. Academic Medicine 2006; 81:661-7
  4. Wyber R, Egan T: For better or worse: Role models for New Zealand house officers. New Zealand Medical Journal 2007; 120:U2518

Reviewed in August 2013 by
Joachim W. Dudenhausen, MD, PhD, FRCOG
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, WCMC-Q
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Sidra Medical and Research Center