Resident physicians and patient families have not traditionally been involved in setting expectations for professional behavior by physicians.


To elicit and compare prioritized lists of attributes and behaviors of physician professionalism formulated by residents and patient families.


We used qualitative and quantitative methods to identify and compare prioritized perceptions of important attributes and behaviors of physician professionalism among residents and families of patients. We conducted 3 resident focus groups, 1 for residents in each resident-training year (postgraduate years 1, 2, and 3), and elicited attributes and behaviors the residents associated with physician professionalism by using free-listing and nominal-group techniques. Family perspectives of the attributes/behaviors of physician professionalism were elicited by using semistructured interviews of consecutive families with a child who was admitted to the hospital. All results were transcribed, and common themes were identified.


Fifty-eight residents (78% of the total in the program) and 40 families participated. Similar themes arose from all 3 resident focus groups, which prioritized tactfulness, support of team members, respectfulness, good communication, and humanism. Residents also provided specific behavioral strategies to put these attributes into practice, such as avoiding jokes about patients and using patient names when addressing and discussing them. Patient families most frequently cited good communication, caring, knowledge, skill, honesty, and attitude. Communication and humanism were aspects consistently endorsed by both residents and patient families.


There was important overlap in the attributes of professionalism generated and prioritized by resident physicians and patient families, although only residents identified ways that health care providers should interact with each other. This novel approach to identifying professionalism attributes provides opportunities for curriculum improvement.

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