Academic Psychiatry

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 664–668 | Cite as

An Evolving Identity: How Chronic Care Is Transforming What it Means to Be a Physician

In Depth Article: Commentary


Physician identity and the professional role physicians play in health care is rapidly evolving. Over 130 million adults and children in the USA have complex and chronic diseases, each of which is shaped by aspects of the patient’s social, psychological, and economic status. These patients have lifelong health care needs that require the ongoing care of multiple health care providers, access to community services, and the involvement of patients’ family support networks. To date, physician professional identity formation has centered on autonomy, authority, and the ability to “heal.” These notions of identity may be counterproductive in chronic disease care, which demands interdependency between physicians, their patients, and teams of multidisciplinary health care providers. Medical educators can prepare trainees for practice in the current health care environment by providing training that legitimizes and reinforces a professional identity that emphasizes this interdependency. This commentary outlines the important challenges related to this change and suggests potential strategies to reframe professional identity to better match the evolving role of physicians today.


Residents: professional development Medical students: socialization 



The authors thank David Bergman, M.D., for reviewing this manuscript and the physicians, clinicians, and researchers who generously offer their time and service in support of their patients and communities.


The authors have no conflicts of interest or disclosures, including financial or personal relationships with individuals or entities that may be related to this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Academic Psychiatry 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford University School of MedicinePalo AltoUSA
  2. 2.Lucile Packard Children’s HospitalStanford University School of MedicinePalo AltoUSA

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