Project on the Good Physician

The Project on the Good Physician aims to develop the first national, longitudinal study of the moral and professional formation of American physicians over the course of their medical training. 

Through a grant from the New Science of Virtues initiative at the University of Chicago, Drs. Curlin, Yoon and Rasinski developed a pilot national survey to develop and test the architecture and methods needed to carry out a longer term longitudinal study, and to identify and develop the survey items needed to measure the formation and degradation of medical virtues in physicians-in-training. 

Prominent medical organizations have launched major initiatives to teach ‘physician professionalism’ as a ‘core competency’ while requiring medical educators to measure the outcomes of their efforts. Unfortunately, little is known about whether and how the myriad of efforts and interventions actually shape the character and practices of physicians. Despite a growing pedagogical focus on modifying discrete behaviors in the developing physician, little is known what virtues characterize the good physician, and how are those virtues formed.

The Project on the Good Physician will bridge the social sciences and humanities to produce a rigorous assessment of the moral and professional formation of physicians by following national cohorts of physicians-in-training, from matriculation in medical school to the first years of practice after residency and/or fellowship. A longitudinal design allows investigators to scientifically assess the complex interplay of individual characteristics (both durable and mutable) and contextual factors (institutional features, student experiences) over the course of physicians’ medical training. Ultimately, the study will follow in the tradition of the great longitudinal surveys of past decades (e.g., The National Education Longitudinal Studies). Our pilot study began with national sample of 960 medical students in their third year clerkships and followed them into their fourth year (completed December 2013). Our study also included qualitative interviews on a sub-sample of medical students as well as an innovative online peer-rating component. Data analysis is currently ongoing.