April 13th, 2018

Teaching and Evaluating Professionalism

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teaching students about professionalism

The evidence is growing. Employers prefer to hire employees/graduates who consistently demonstrate professionalism and emotional intelligence skills in the workplace. Cognitive and technical skills are essential as well, but these are largely expected now.

Why is professionalism so important? One reason is that, in the eyes of the consumer, employee actions and behaviors reflect on the organization. Patient satisfaction may increasingly be tied in with insurance reimbursement for services rendered. In the same way, students are ambassadors of the programs and institutions they represent when they train in hospitals or clinics, as well as when they secure employment after they graduate.

Therefore, employers and educational facilities have a vested interest in the professionalism skills that students demonstrate, or fail to demonstrate, during training and/or employment. Another reason professionalism is important is that it is a factor in graduate success. If one of your program’s top priorities is to set your students up for success in this increasingly competitive job market, then teaching and/or evaluating professionalism must be a top priority as well.

Educators are left with three options when students come to our institutions and programs: 1) students come to us with these professionalism skills already learned and developed; 2) students will learn and develop these skills somewhere, somehow while they are in our programs, or 3) we will teach and evaluate professionalism both on campus and in the clinical environment.

The first step in teaching and evaluating professionalism is to work with advisory boards, clinical training sites, and employers in your industry to identify what professionalism skills they desire or require in an employee. The second step is to effectively communicate to your students which skills or standards are expected of them as soon as they are accepted into your program. The earlier this communication takes place, the better.

These expectations should be addressed at the beginning of each course and reviewed often. In addition, faculty should effectively communicate how and when these skills will be evaluated for each student. The third step is to decide where to embed each professionalism skill within your curriculum. There may be some courses where multiple skills can be taught or discussed in one course, and there may be some courses where no skills will be taught in that particular course.

Teaching methods of professionalism may be formal or informal, and assignments may be done individually or assigned as team projects. At the completion of each assignment, group discussion is a valuable tool for sharing ideas and discussing conclusions.

The last step in addressing professionalism skills, and perhaps the most important one, is that professionalism skills need to be evaluated using a professional evaluation tool. This tool can be extremely valuable for the student and the evaluator. This tool should include each skill to be evaluated and the evaluation scale, or rubric, used to evaluate the student for that skill. Evaluations should be performed at regular intervals, such as the end of each term, and ideally, they should be done one-on-one.

For the evaluation to be most effective for the student, it should be performed over a 1–3-year period of time if possible. These evaluations should identify the student’s strengths as well as areas of focus for improvement. The more specific the evaluator can be on the professional evaluation, the more effective the professional evaluation as a tool can be for the student and the evaluator. If there are deficiencies in one or more categories or skills, faculty should clearly identify the deficiencies and determine a specific time frame for remediation of those deficiencies. The professional evaluation should be repeated at the end of that time frame. If there is improvement, the student’s score(s) are changed for those skill levels. Consequences for failed remediation need to be clearly identified and communicated to the student at the beginning of each term, and these may include failure of the course and/or termination from the program.

The consequences of not addressing professionalism skills may include: reputation of the student/clinical site/school, compromised education (lack of adequately preparing the student to be successful), loss of credentials and/or licenses, potential legal action, and most importantly, potentially compromised patient care.

Richard Hoylman is an associate professor and program director in the nuclear medicine and molecular imaging technology program at Oregon Tech University.

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