The success of an institution and its personnel can hinge on the professional culture it creates, this according to Dr. Robert L. Johnson, The Sharon and Joseph L. Muscarelle Endowed Dean at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) and keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual Geoffrey Bourne Memorial Lecture.
Dr. Johnson, who also serves as Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at NJMS, gave the presentation titled “Professionalism in Health Care” at Charter Hall before dozens of hospital administrators who were attending SGU’s annual clinical meetings.
“I think that in these days, it is one of the most important things that we can do,” Dr. Johnson said. “We need to be in charge of that. Many of the things that we used to be in charge of, we aren’t in charge of anymore. Only the profession can adequately define professionalism, set the standards, and make sure that we all adhere to them.”
The Latin phrase “primum non nocere” – or “first, do no harm” – is still the bedrock of the profession, but increased attention is devoted to creating and maintaining a professional workplace, and teaching the principles outlined in “Professionalism in the New Millennium: A Physician Charter,” a groundbreaking research study conducted by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation, the American College of Physicians (ACP)-American Society of Internal Medicine (ASIM) Foundation, and the European Federation of Internal Medicine in 2002. The Charter consisted of three fundamental principles – primacy of patient welfare, patient autonomy, and social justice – as well as 10 commitments ranging from honesty and confidentiality to professional competence and improving access to care.
Such commitments to the profession start at the top and are passed down to students not only through communication but observation, what Dr. Johnson called “the hidden curriculum.”
“What students really learn from their professors is not only based on what they say but what they do,” Dr. Johnson said. “They learn to be doctors as a result of mimicking what you do – how you talk to your patients, how you handle problems, how you handle mistakes, and how you talk to each other.”
He also stressed the importance of setting expectations for students through ceremonial events, written documents, and training, with assessments and remediation done based on their performance.
“People come to us with a variety of experiences and backgrounds that determine how they will acquire and administer new material,” Dr. Johnson said. “You must have a process for identifying problems and remediating them.”
In addition to his roles at NJMS, Dr. Johnson chairs the New Jersey Governor’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and Related Blood-Borne Pathogens, as well as the Newark Ryan White Planning Council. He has previously served as the President of the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, the Chair of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Council on Graduate Medical Education. Dr. Johnson joins a decorated list of Bourne speakers that includes Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and neurology pioneer Lord Walton of Detchant. The lecture series is named for St. George’s University’s first Vice Chancellor, Dr. Geoffrey H. Bourne, an educator, scientist, writer, and visionary who helped guide the University in its early development.