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Confronting the 'hidden curriculum'

New Faculty of Health Sciences building culture of professionalism

New Faculty of Health Sciences building culture of professionalism

BY DR. BRIAN POSTL
Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba
Wave, Summer 2014

The "hidden curriculum" refers to the unintentional lessons, perceptions and values students pick up during their education that may undermine the academic institution's formal curriculum.

They are often referred to as "hidden" because the non-verbal cultural and social messages absorbed by students are generally not acknowledged.

However, we recognize that professionalism is the keystone of the social contract between the health professions and the public at large. Society is concerned about the potential erosion and decline of professionalism in some health professionals, and it is our responsibility as educators to address those concerns as we train future physicians, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, dental hygienists and physical, occupational and respiratory therapists.

In professional schools, the professional identity of learners evolves. Roles and context-specific behavioural norms shift as learners advance through their training program. Expectations regarding desired professional behaviour and its "evolution" during training should be explicit for both faculty and learners.

In fact, professional expectations have moved to centre stage in many academic settings. For example, first-year students in the College of Medicine begin their health education/career with a white coat ceremony in which they accept the professional meaning of responsibility that comes with wearing the white coat. By reciting the Hippocratic Oath, they promise to fulfil the expectations for caring and professionalism.

Faculty members play a critical role in promoting professional behaviours in learners. An environment that supports the formal curriculum by actively modelling professional behaviour, and also provides opportunities for learners to process, discuss or debrief unprofessional behaviours that they may have experienced, is critical for promoting professional behaviours in both learners and faculty.

Our goal is to provide a framework and set of principles to guide the actions of professionals in their practices and the actions of learners at all levels as they prepare for independent careers.

As we launch the new Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, bringing together the Colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Rehabilitation Sciences, our goal is to move towards the complete integration of a culture of professionalism within all college communities.

This will be achieved through embracing, teaching, and articulating the attributes of professionalism to faculty, students, staff and residents.

We are implementing curricular strategies and taking steps to ensure that our educational environment and culture support students' and faculty's professional development. This includes the creation of a learning environment that nurtures learners to become true professionals as they acquire the knowledge and technical and clinical skills to provide high-quality patient care and succeed in their professions.

To do so in Medicine, we have incorporated professionalism as one of the five longitudinal courses in our new MD curriculum beginning this fall. The focus of the longitudinal courses will be a Person to Community-Centred curriculum highlighting principles of professionalism, social accountability, equity, cultural safety, advocacy and responsibility in  helping to contextualize health issues.

We want our graduates to serve as role models to students, peers, and colleagues, and embody the tenets of professionalism including competency, ethical behaviour, honesty, respect and service to others during the practice of their profession.

Delivering health care with empathy, compassion and integrity to all populations is rightfully expected by the public at large from those practising across the health professions.

Dr. Brian Postl is Dean of Medicine, Dean and Vice-Provost (Health Sciences) at the University of Manitoba.

Wave: Summer 2014

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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