Best Evidence Medical and Health Professional Education

Doctor Role Modelling in Medical Education



Role modelling has been described as the process in which ‘faculty members demonstrate clinical skills, model and articulate expert thought processes and manifest positive professional characteristics.’ (Irby, 1986: 40). Role modelling is elusive, as there are no standards and the importance of role modelling remains unclear. The aim of this review is to summarise the evidence currently available on role modelling by doctors in medical education.

A systematic search of electronic databases was conducted (PubMed, Psyc- Info, Embase, Education Research Complete, Web of Knowledge, ERIC and British Education Index) from January 1990 to February 2012. Data extraction was completed by two independent reviewers and included a quality assessment of each paper. A thematic analysis was conducted on all the included papers.  

Thirty-nine studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria for the review. Six main themes emerged from the content of high and medium quality papers: 1) the attributes of positive doctor role models; 2) the personality profiles of positive role models; 3) the influence of positive role models on students’ career choice; 4) the process of positive role modelling; 5) the influence of negative role modelling; 6) the influence of culture, diversity and gender in the choice of role model.

This systematic review highlights role modelling as an important process for the professional development of learners. Excellence in role modelling involves demonstration of high standards of clinical competence, excellence in clinical teaching skills and humanistic personal qualities. Positive role models not only help to shape the professional development of our future physicians, they also influence their career choices. This review has highlighted two main challenges in doctor role modelling: the first challenge lies in our lack of understanding of the complex phenomenon of role modelling. Secondly, the literature draws attention to negative role modelling and this negative influence requires deeper exploration to identify ways to mitigate adverse effects.

We concluded that clinical teachers can enhance their status as role models. To be an effective role model, clinical teachers must be encouraged to develop a conscious awareness of role modelling in all clinical environments. Clinical teachers need to be aware of the profound influence they exert on recruitment to specialities and that the level of enthusiasm they display for their job is a compelling factor. Medical leaders need to develop strategies to ensure the organisational structure supports a culture of excellence in doctor role modelling. Medical educators worldwide need to collaborate and share ideas to develop excellence in role modelling; as this in turn will ensure high standards of patient care.


Review Group

Dr Vimmi Passi (lead reviewer), Course Director MMedEd, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK

Samantha Johnson, Academic Support Librarian, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK

Professor Ed Peile, Emeritus Professor of Medical Education, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK

Professor Scott Wright, Chair, Division of General Internal Medicine, John Hopkins School of Medicine, USA

Professor Fred Hafferty, Professor of Medical Education, The Mayo Clinic, USA

Professor Neil Johnson, Pro Dean Education, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK


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