Opening Session focuses on professionalism

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Kicking off RSNA 2006 this morning was President Robert R. Hattery, MD, who urged attendees to make a renewed commitment to professionalism. “Many of our colleagues need to put ethics on the front page,” he said. “We have the freedom to determine our own destiny. It’s up to us. If we abuse our freedom or fall short of our stewardship of trust, we risk losing our privileges.”
Hattery said he believes the medical community is facing that risk but that a renewed commitment to professionalism is the tool that can restore the privileges healthcare providers have.
The fact that attendees had flocked to the Arie Crown Theater early on a Sunday morning to hear about the urgency of professionalism is a good sign, he said. But, “there are changes brewing that threaten our professional fabric.”
Hattery said that physicians are debtors to the profession and owe society something. However, “we can’t strengthen professionalism until we better understand it. We must acknowledge that professionalism is at the very core of what we do as physicians. We need to recognize that professionalism springs from the warmth and compassion of our hearts as much as from ethical decision-making and intellect.”
Professionalism is guided by human virtues just as much as it is by robust articles that help us make more outcome-based decisions, he said. “Professionalism is multifaceted just as humans are.”
The commitment to professionalism is required for several reasons. They include:

  • Public concern about errors and a system that seems to leave them increasingly fending for themselves.
  • Rise of business influences and growing commercialism.
  • Infrastructure in flux.

Physicians are facing disappearing safety nets, burnout, lowered prestige, and high cynicism, Hattery said. They are facing pressure on all sides and increasingly are on the defensive. “It is easier to put attention to professionalism on the back burner,” he said. “We feel squeezed out, marginalized, and underappreciated. If ever there was a time to look deep within ourselves…this is that time. You can call it our moment of truth. We can help strengthen medicine’s heritage.”    

Physicians have a responsibility to give back their time, energy, financial support and commitment, he said. Physicians must put their patients’ need before their own concerns. “We pay our debt by strengthening professionalism, so we must better understand it. There is no magic formula. We know it when we see it and I believe we feel it when we have achieved it. Professionalism is at the very core of the art and science of medicine.”
Hattery urged attendees to get reacquainted with ethical codes, including the Hippocratic Oath—“not a glib and empty promise but an enduring reminder for each day”— and the ethical code of the American Medical Association.
To keep professionalism “front and center,” Hattery said physicians should become engaged in self assessment and periodically gauge themselves against medical standards. They should teach and mentor, proactively deal with unprofessional behavior, help bolster public confidence in medicine, and take this conversation to the PACS workstations. “That is where we connect as professionals.”