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In Professions We Trust: Fostering virtuous practitioners in teaching, law and medicine

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A new ResPublica publication

ResPublica, in partnership with the Jubilee Centre, sets out to reaffirm the value and purpose of our great professions in our latest report In Professions We Trust: Fostering virtuous practitioners in teaching, law and medicine.

This report argues that the legal, medical, and teaching professions provide a vital link between public service and the wider common good. Yet this understanding of civic purpose is in crisis, and the professions too often have come to be seen as self-serving interest groups. The conception of professionalism founded on the performance of duties has been eroded, with transactionality, narrowing specialisation, and the meeting of imposed targets coming to characterise practice. The resultant loss of trust has been detrimental to both practitioners and users of services.

We need to acknowledge the obligation of practitioners to serve the common good in order to return law, medicine, and teaching to their proper status as vocations. This entails calling practitioners to reconsider their sense of professional purpose, and allowing the rebuilding of relationships, in which the doctor, teacher, and lawyer knows and seeks to serve all the needs of their patient, student, or client. Through this restoration of trust, it will be possible to return responsibility to members of the professions.

This report reasserts virtue as the hallmark of the professions and their practitioners. The continuous nature of the practice of virtue at every stage of professional life must be grasped, embedding a consideration of practical wisdom and reflective practice in both training and professional life. In this way, the professions will once again fulfil their calling as vocations that serve the good of all.

Report co-author and ResPublica director Phillip Blond, said:

“Action is needed in the face of health service scandals such as the appalling lack of care exposed at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust in 2013, a negative attitude towards lawyers and an education system which sees around 40% of teachers leave the profession within five years. 

“While state intervention is used to solve problems this can see money taken away from professions such as law and centralisation only serves to create a disconnected NHS. In teaching, a rule-driven regulatory system compounds the problems of low morale among classroom staff, thereby reducing levels of performance.”

Shadow Education Minister Baroness Jones said:

“Recent years have seen a disastrous erosion of trust in the teaching, medical, and legal professions. Despite the efforts of many practitioners, these professions have increasingly come to be seen as self-serving interest groups.

“ResPublica’s report rightly calls for teachers, lawyers, and medics to be reconnected with their vocation to serve the public good and also allowed to rely on the practical wisdom that they have accumulated along the way. The recommendations should be given serious consideration by all those concerned with restoring trust to our institutions and common life.

Schools face a real challenge in reconnecting with their communities as well as raising the status and quality of the teaching profession. The Report provides some inspiring and provocative ideas which begin to address these issues.”

Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, Niall Dickson:

‘The report is a useful contribution to an incredibly important debate and its message reflects many of the principles we are adopting in our work on medical professionalism. While clinical and technical skills remain absolutely essential, we recognise just how vital it is to foster professional skills which countless inquiries have shown are also vital if patients are to receive safe, effective and compassionate care.”

The Report’s co-author Professor Elena Antonacopoulou, of the University of Liverpool, further explains that professional politics and unwritten mandates of ‘the way we do things around here’ in the workplace often stand in the way of ordinary morality according to individual and social conscience. Professor Antonacopoulou said:

“These and other conditions provide a framework that simply does not work, and codes of ethical conduct do little to avert professional misconduct. They do not work to inspire motivate and engage professionals to perform professional practice with pride and confidence, dutifulness and conviction, aspiration and ambition, attentiveness and tenacity. They merely encourage and reward mediocrity and getting by with what is possible to do and still get away with it”.

She goes on to explain that “what is needed are modes of learning and changing otherwise referred to as ‘reflexive critique’ that promote not only exercising judgment in widening the repertoire of action, but also examining professional and personal life holistically thus, practising virtuousness through a code of chivalry and with altruism”.

A selection of quotes from the launch event:

 

 

For any queries about the project, please contact Jenny Leigh at jennifer.leigh@respublica.org.uk.

This publication has kindly been supported by:

 

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  • Phillip Blond

    Director

    Phillip is an internationally recognised political thinker and social and economic commentator. He bridges the gap between politics and practice, offering strategic consultation and policy formation to governments, businesses and organisations across the world. He founded ResPublica in 2009 and...

    Phillip Blond
  • Elena Antonacopoulou

    Professor, Liverpool University

    Elena Antonacopoulou is a Professor of Organizational Behaviour at University of Liverpool Management School. She previously held faculty positions at Warwick Business School, Manchester Business School and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). She earned her...

    Elena Antonacopoulou
  • Adrian Pabst

    Trustee

    Adrian Pabst is Lecturer in Politics at the University of Kent. Prior to that he completed his PhD at Cambridge and held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at Nottingham. He is a Visiting Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de...

    Adrian Pabst