Teaching That Which Can’t be Taught

Health - Saigon/HCMC: March 22, 2017

Rather than traditional book learning, being ‘educated’ first means learning professionalism; after that, the knowledge can follow. We respect doctors as having the highest level of professionalism, but how do they get there?

A person is only a professional as he or she relates to others; after all, being a professional all alone has no meaning, it must be a two-way process. How the doctor interprets the Patient’s Bill of Rights (see box) determines in large part how the patient respects the doctor. So, above all, a professional has deep human respect for those he/she serves, or he/she is simply not a professional.

How does a doctor achieve this professionalism? It’s not from the medical school lectures, but from learning by example from a truly admirable, professional mentor. Objective and specialised knowledge is almost secondary, as most information in the cyber-era is an easily obtained commodity.

Professionalism is honed and refined by immersion in a positive culture that has the best professionalism in its DNA.

The dominant healthcare culture in Vietnam is still in the process of becoming more international in its standards. In the State sector, overcrowding and underfunding pose challenges for the highest professional behaviour. Fortunately, this is changing, and the Ministry of Health is intensively working to tackle the negative aspects of this stressed culture. One tactic? Studying overseas.

It is very helpful for a budding physician in Vietnam to see a strong, positive healthcare culture in another country. Immersion for some period shapes the individual and gives their newfound professionalism deeper roots. These young doctors come back to Vietnam with a new ethic and a definite sense of mission. This is a huge asset to their healthcare systems, their patients, and ultimately to Vietnam.

Professionalism is being the best that you can be in the service of others. That is passed from a mentor to a learner who in turn passes it on. The highest level of professionalism is transformational for a medical system.

Patient’s Bill of Rights

(Adapted from the American Medical Association)

Respect: Each individual will be treated as unique and their human dignity will be respected.

Autonomy: The patient shall determine what will be done with his or herself. The patient has a right to confidentiality of their medical treatment and records, and to have all medical personnel safeguard that right

Truthfulness: Physicians will be truthful with patients and their families and should avoid withholding information. This allows the patient to make informed decisions.

Beneficence: Medical personnel must follow the ethical principle of always doing or promoting the best care that they can offer.

Non-maleficence: The Hippocratic principle, named after the ancient Greek physician whose ethics are still followed 2,300 years later: “DO NO HARM” (Primum non nocere in Latin).

Justice: Fairness; each patient will be treated equally to all others with the kindness and respect that are given to all.

Fidelity: Medical personnel must remain faithful to promises made.

Right-to-know: Nothing shall be done to a patient without his/her informed consent.