Values of the Profession
Medicine is about compassion, service, altruism, and trustworthiness, values that have always and will continue to guide the profession. These values are the basis for the principles, duties and policies that follow.
Individual doctors serve their patients by assessing, diagnosing and treating patients, and through rehabilitation and habilitation, palliation, health promotion, and disease prevention. However, medicine is more than procedures and physicians are more than purveyors of technology. Compassion is fundamental to the relationship between the patient and the doctor. Compassion is defined as a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.
Service means working for the benefit of another. Doctors in Ontario are dedicated to serving their patients.
To serve their patients, physicians must be competent in the medical areas in which they practice. Competence requires the application of current knowledge with requisite skill and judgment needed to meet the patient’s medical needs. In this, physicians should strive for excellence.
Service is not only competence; it is also putting the patient first. A physician has professional responsibility to their patients, individually and collectively; their patients’ families; their own practice; and the health care system. However, at any given time a physician’s primary responsibility is to the individual patient before them.
Physicians, as a profession, also have a collective responsibility to the public, which is demonstrated by collaborating with and supporting colleagues and other health professionals, and participating in self-regulation in the public interest. The profession has a critical responsibility to the public as a whole via its responsibility to regulate. Just as doctors serve patients, the College, as the representative of the profession in self-regulation, has the ethical and statutory responsibility to serve the public by regulating physicians in the public interest.
Altruism, as a principle of action, is the highest commitment to service. Altruism in medicine is defined as practising unselfishly and with a regard for others.
Patients’ needs are paramount and must be considered before the individual physician’s needs, the needs of physicians as a group, or the public as a whole. This is not to say that physicians must sacrifice their health or other important aspects of their life for their patients. Rather, it means that when providing care to a patient, a physician should always put that patient first.
Trustworthiness is the cornerstone of the practice of medicine. It is the demonstration of compassion, service and altruism that earns the medical profession the trust of the public. This trust manifests itself in the social contract between the profession and the public, as well as the relationship an individual patient has with his or her doctor.
Maintaining trust is an important aspect of medical professionalism. Patients must be able to trust that the physician will always uphold the values of the profession; in the absence of the trusting relationship the physician cannot help the patient and the patient cannot benefit from the relationship.