Despite considerable attention to professionalism in medical education nationwide, the majority of attention has focused on training medical students, and less on residents and faculty. Curricular formats are often didactic, removed from the clinical setting, and frequently focus on abstract concepts. As a result of a recent curricular innovation at the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) in which role-model faculty work with medical students in teaching and modeling clinical skills and professionalism, a new professionalism curriculum was developed for preclinical medical students. Through student feedback, that curriculum has changed over time, and has become more focused on the clinical encounter. This new and evolving curriculum has raised awareness of the existence of an "ecology of professionalism." In this ecological model, changes in the understanding of and attention to professionalism at one institutional level lead to changes at other levels. At the UWSOM, heightened attention to professionalism at the medical student level led to awareness of the need for increased attention to teaching and modeling professionalism among faculty, residents, and staff. This new understanding of professionalism as an institutional responsibility has helped UWSOM teachers and administrators recognize and promote mechanisms that create a "safe" environment for fostering professionalism. In such an institutional culture, students, residents, faculty, staff, and the institution itself are all held accountable for professional behavior, and improvement must be addressed at all levels.
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