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Teaching medical professionalism: a qualitative exploration of persuasive communication as an educational strategy

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JournalBMC Medical Education
DateAccepted/In press - 5 Feb 2020
DatePublished (current) - 17 Mar 2020
Number of pages11
Original languageEnglish


BACKGROUND: Across the world, local standards provide doctors with a backbone of professional attitudes that must be embodied across their practice. However, educational approaches to develop attitudes are undermined by the lack of a theoretical framework. Our research explored the ways in which the General Medical Council's (GMC) programme of preventative educational workshops (the Duties of a Doctor programme) attempted to influence doctors' professional attitudes and examined how persuasive communication theory can advance understandings of professionalism education.

METHODS: This qualitative study comprised 15 ethnographic observations of the GMC's programme of preventative educational workshops at seven locations across England, as well as qualitative interviews with 55 postgraduate doctors ranging in experience from junior trainees to senior consultants. The sample was purposefully chosen to include various geographic locations, different programme facilitators and doctors, who varied by seniority. Data collection occurred between March to December 2017. Thematic analysis was undertaken inductively, with meaning flowing from the data, and deductively, guided by persuasive communication theory.

RESULTS: The source (educator); the message (content); and the audience (participants) were revealed as key influences on the persuasiveness of the intervention. Educators established a high degree of credibility amongst doctors and worked to build rapport. Their message was persuasive, in that it drew on rational and emotional communicative techniques and made use of both statistical and narrative evidence. Importantly, the workshops were interactive, which allowed doctors to engage with the message and thus increased its persuasiveness.

CONCLUSIONS: This study extends the literature by providing a theoretically-informed understanding of an educational intervention aimed at promoting professionalism, examining it through the lens of persuasive communication. Within the context of interactive programmes that allow doctors to discuss real life examples of professional dilemmas, educators can impact on doctors' professional attitudes by drawing on persuasive communication techniques to enhance their credibility to demonstrate expertise, by building rapport and by making use of rational and emotional appeals.

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© The Author(s). 2020

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