Three Unprofessional Behaviors in the Health Profession
In the clinical context, most workers seek to provide the best possible care. However, healthcare professionals are only human beings and they can make mistakes. Unfortunately, these failures undermine confidence in health systems and the profession itself. That said, many of them are only a consequence of a lack of means or highly improvable working conditions.
Maximizing the clinical care provided and humanizing it requires understanding the influence of various different factors. These are the frequency, type, sources, and causes of wrong behaviors. In fact, some studies have found that almost six out of ten health professionals could exhibit at least one erroneous behavior per month (Kirsten et al., 2023).
“The main goal of medicine is not simply to cure disease, but to promote the health and well-being of our patients.”
Ethics in the health profession
Being professional and ethical in the healthcare context implies “promoting trustworthy behaviors both with patients and with the healthcare system”. Consequently, erroneous or unprofessional behavior erodes patient-professional communication, confidence in any interventions, and learning (Wiegman et al., 2007).
Among the effects that wrong or unethical behaviors have are the kinds of adverse events that deteriorate both the physical and mental health of patients. This is known as ‘iatrogenic’. It’s a term that refers to ‘the deleterious effects of poor health care, misbehavior, or contraindicated treatment or therapy’. For example:
- Medical errors.
- Unnecessary surgeries.
- Diagnostic imprecision.
- Side effects of treatment.
- Erroneous behaviors in dealing with patients.
Iatrogenicity affects many healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, biologists, psychologists, and others. Experts seek to minimize its effects by studying the (often unintentional) factors that harm the patient. They try to achieve it via codes of good practice, protocols, and clinical practice.
On the other hand, we want to make it clear that most professionals behave in accordance with extremely high ethical and deontological standards (Villafranca et al., 2016). Indeed, as a rule, they’re committed both to their work and the care of their patients.
However, behaviors such as discrimination against certain patients based on their sex or ethnicity or the lack of empathy in dealing with them impact both patients and other health professionals.
“Humanizing healthcare means paying attention to people’s needs, not just their illnesses.”
Unprofessional behaviors among health professionals
Unprofessional behaviors in the healthcare context affect the perception of the patient’s psychological well-being (Atkinson et al., 2018). Among their consequences are symptoms of anxiety and stress, deterioration in communication, concentration deficits, and, of course, deterioration in the relationship between the psychologist (or psychiatrist) and the patient.
Next, we’ll review three specific unprofessional behaviors that have been observed.
“Deontology not only implies compliance with a set of norms and rules but also implies the development of a moral sensitivity and an ethical attitude in the exercise of the profession.”
As a result of work overload or emotional difficulties in the professional’s life, they might sometimes communicate disrespectfully with patients and/or their families. As Terence of Ancient Rome said, “I am human and I think nothing human is alien to me”.
Unfortunately, professionals occasionally communicate results and verbal interventions tactlessly and contemptuously. Or, they ignore and minimize the concerns of the patient who comes to the consultation. This communication deficit potentially generates anxiety and stress.
Patients might feel extremely frustrated by this treatment by the professional. Indeed, it’s essential that the latter have enough time to care for their patients. Moreover, they must provide them with any information they need.
“The humanization of healthcare is not an addition to modern medicine, but rather a prerequisite for the success of any healthcare intervention.”
2. Clinical practice
Impersonal treatment toward the patient is another unprofessional behavior. Patients are human beings and should be treated as such. Being impersonal doesn’t mean being more professional. Health professionals must take into account what the patient needs on an emotional level, in order to be empathetic about their concerns and show compassion for their suffering.
Another unprofessional behavior is a breach of confidentiality. This is because in order to promote trust between the patient and the psychologist (or other healthcare professionals) their rights to privacy must be respected.
This right is also protected by the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Consequently, the healthcare professional has to be extraordinarily discreet and ensure the confidentiality of the information provided in clinical practice.
“A good professional treats the disease; a great professional treats the person who has the disease.”
3. Treatment between the professionals
As we mentioned earlier, unprofessional behavior can also be observed in dealings between different professionals. For example, harassing, intimidating, and discriminatory behaviors by medical supervisors toward students and residents have been observed (Dabekaussen et al., 2023).
Discrimination is an act that simply can’t be accepted. Neither in this context nor in others. Health professionals must show respect toward their colleagues, regardless of rank, gender, sexual orientation, or ideological and political values. Indeed, among other reasons, the work environment among health professionals has a direct impact on the treatment offered to the patient (Atkinson et al., 2018).
There’s extensive research on these issues. In fact, it’s been found that when healthcare professionals make mistakes, it can be due to numerous causes.
Despite this fact, there are certain protocols and measures that seek to minimize both inappropriate behaviors and the effects they may cause. Therefore, experts have created in situ interventions with the aim of reducing these harmful behaviors (Atkinson et al., 2018).
“Medicine (and other health disciplines) is a sacred profession that treats and seeks to alleviate human pain, disease, injury, and weakness.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Atkinson, V., & Jones, C. (2018). Endemic unprofessional behaviour in health care: the mandate for a change in approach. Medical Journal of Australia, 209(9), 380-381.
- Dabekaussen, K. F., Scheepers, R. A., Heineman, E., Haber, A. L., Lombarts, K. M., Jaarsma, D. A., & Shapiro, J. (2023). Health care professionals’ perceptions of unprofessional behaviour in the clinical workplace. PloS one, 18(1), e0280444.
- Hickson GB, Pichert JW, Webb LE, Gabbe SG. (2007). A Complementary Approach to Promoting Professionalism: Identifying, Measuring, and Addressing Unprofessional Behaviours. Acad Med., 82(11):1040–1048. pmid:17971689
- Rukavina, T. V., Poplašen, L. M., Majer, M., Relić, D., Viskić, J., & Marelić, M. (2022). Defining potentially unprofessional behavior on social media for health care professionals: mixed methods study. JMIR Medical Education, 8(3), e35585.
- Villafranca A, Hamlin C, Enns S, Jacobsohn E. (2016). Disruptive behaviour in the perioperative setting: a contemporary review. Canadian journal of anaesthesia = Journal canadien d’anesthesie, 64(2):128–140. pmid:27900669
- Wiegmann DA, ElBardissi AW, Dearani JA, Daly RC, Sundt TM. Disruptions in surgical flow and their relationship to surgical errors: An exploratory investigation. Surgery. 2007;142(5):658–665. pmid:17981185