Doctor, why did you behave the way you behaved last night?
Frankly, I don’t really care how you behaved last night as a person, although you should. I do realize that the Christian religion states that “I am my brother’s keeper.” I do care about your welfare, but I am not that strong a believer as to make your personal life my personal business.
But, if it were your professional behavior, I do care, because I, as another physician, am responsible, in the broadest sense, for your professional behavior.
You see, “the essence of professionalism is self-governance” by an individual, and by the profession as a whole.
Why do we behave the way we do? What are the controllers of human behavior?
First, it is our genes. A large part of what we do is predetermined genetically. Second, it is how our mother, or other close caregiver, treated us up to the age of 3 or 4.
Beyond that, these are the principal controllers of our human behavior:
Personal Morality, which is “a quality or fact of conforming to or deriving from right ideas of human conduct; goodness and uprightness of behavior”;
Societal Ethics, which is (are) “principles of conduct governing an individual or profession; the ideals of character manifested by a people”; and
Public Law, which is “a rule or mode of conduct or action that is formally recognized as binding by a supreme controlling authority and is made obligatory by a sanction.”
So, now you may know why you behaved the way you behaved last night. I hope you’re proud of yourself and have no need for apology or cover-up.
I intend to speak more about my responsibility for your professional behavior later.
George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.