• Vol. 38 No. 6, 537–540
  • 15 June 2009

New House-Officers’ Views on Unprofessional Behaviour



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Aim: To determine the views of new house officers (HO) on professionalism and unprofessional behaviour following dismissal in January 2007 of a HO who was caught video-taping nurses in the shower. Methods: An anonymous self-administered questionnaire was administered during new house officers’ orientation. Using a Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree), HO were asked to rank statements regarding teaching and their understanding of professionalism and professional behaviour, role model-clinicians, their response to 3 real-life examples of unprofessional behaviour, and dismissal and Singapore Medical Council (SMC) registration of the sacked HO. Participation was voluntary. Results: Twenty-eight out of twenty-nine (96.6%) international medical graduates (IMG) and 84/95 (88%) house officers who graduated from National University of Singapore (NUS) responded. Their median age was 24 years and 63 of them were male. All IMG compared to 63.1% NUS HO agreed that professionalism was well taught in their medical school (P <0.0001). Majority (82.1%) of IMG compared to 67.9% NUS HO agreed they had adequate role model-clinicians exemplifying professionalism (P <0.0001). Majority (90.8%) of the respondents agreed that the sacked HO’s behaviour was not pardonable, a smaller proportion (83.9%) agreed with dismissal but only half (52.7%) agreed that SMC should not register the sacked HO. Conclusion: In this study, only two-thirds of NUS HO felt that professionalism was well taught and they had adequate role models. NUS should review this aspect of medical education. Majority of HO agreed with the dismissal but only half felt the misdemeanour was serious enough for SMC not to register the sacked HO.

The need for incorporation of biomedical ethics and professionalism into the formal undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum has been increasingly recognised in the last twenty years.1-4 Parallel to changes in the curriculum, reports of doctors accused of or engaged in criminal activities have appeared in the lay press and medical literature. Reports of this nature belong to a few genres: human experimentation during the early twentieth century,5 terrorism,6 euthanasia, assisted suicide and prescription of opoids7-9 and “problem doctors”10,11 In Singapore, among the 6931 fully or conditionally registered doctors with our Medical Council, allegations of professional negligence/incompetence, misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatment or prescription and breach of professional conduct are common causes for complaints12 against “problem doctors”. However, in the last two years it was the arrest of two house officers (HO) and subsequent conviction in court which shocked the nation: one for illegal consumption, possession and peddling of synthetic drugs13 and the other for outrage of modesty when he attempted to videotape a nursing colleague in the shower.14 Upon their arrests, both house officers’ employment was terminated immediately. While both arrests generated much discussion in the lay and local medical press, most of the opinions came from senior and more experienced doctors

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