HEC Forum

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 257-272

First online:

How Virtue Ethics Informs Medical Professionalism

  • Susan D. McCammonAffiliated withDepartment of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch Email author 
  • , Howard BrodyAffiliated withInstitute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch

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We argue that a turn toward virtue ethics as a way of understanding medical professionalism represents both a valuable corrective and a missed opportunity. We look at three ways in which a closer appeal to virtue ethics could help address current problems or issues in professionalism education—first, balancing professionalism training with demands for professional virtues as a prerequisite; second, preventing demands for the demonstrable achievement of competencies from working against ideal professionalism education as lifelong learning; and third, avoiding temptations to dismiss moral distress as a mere “hidden curriculum” problem. As a further demonstration of how best to approach a lifelong practice of medical virtue, we will examine altruism as a mean between the extremes of self-sacrifice and selfishness.


Virtue ethics Medical professionalism Moral distress Altruism