Addressing uncertainty is professional

‘One of the key attributes of professionalism . . . should be the ability to identify and address uncertainty in medicine. Every day professionals confront and cope with uncertainties about disease pathogenesis, about diagnosis, and about treatment. Yet the intrinsic uncertainties in all these spheres of medical activity are seldom acknowledged explicitly and some professionals remain uncomfortable about admissions of uncertainty – in their dealings with patients especially.

Uncertainty is also a prime stimulus for medical research to improve human health, which is central to the MRC’s mission. In the future it will be increasingly important for medical professionals to take on board the results of accumulated research findings relevant to their area of practice so that they are aware where continuing uncertainties exist and what research is ongoing or needed to address these. Overall, a mark of professionalism for the future will be research awareness for the benefit of patients. Some medical professionals will actively participate in research but all should seek to encourage it and, where appropriate, to involve their patients actively in the medical research agenda, and implement the results of this research in their professional practice.’

From: Medical Research Council response to Royal College of Physicians consultation on medical professionalism. 2005.