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William Burke, D.O. (’88) on new rules of medical etiquette

Dr. Burke discusses how professionalism has changed over the years

By Richard Heck

Feb. 27, 2009 

OU-COM students are held to a high standard, as evidenced by our student honor code and the Professionalism Lecture Series.
William Burke, D.O. (’88),
shared his thoughts on emerging challenges for today’s physician at one
of these noon presentations. 

Having graduated from OU-COM 20 years ago, Burke, program director for Doctors Hospital Family Practice residency program, noted key differences in the medical field.

For example, technologies like cellular telephones and web-based social networking present new rules of etiquette and new professional risks. He recounted how a colleague rejected a residency applicant after viewing an inappropriate picture on the student’s Facebook profile.

Burke recalled another student who, for academic and professional purposes, gave out an e-mail address including the name “monkey love.” “You’re not in college anymore,” Burke said. “You need to think about those things.” 

Another development Burke noted is the rising number of women entering the profession, which has required a revision of traditional gender roles. “Change takes time, but there still are old, male doctors out there who act like pigs,” he said.

Burke pointed out that both patients and fellow physicians have certain professional and ethical expectations. One expectation among patients, Burke said, is that physicians wear their clean white coats over business attire – ties for men.

“Look like a doctor,” Burke said, noting that what students now wear to first- and second-year lectures may not be appropriate for third- and fourth-year clinical rotations, where students are expected to demonstrate professionalism as one of their seven competencies.

“People make judgments about you based on appearance,” Burke said. “What you wear to a club on Saturday night may not be appropriate to wear to the clinic on Monday morning. You all are youthful in your looks right now, but that can impede a patient’s perception. … Even bad breath can alter a patient’s confidence in a physician.”

Burke admitted that professionalism can be subjective and difficult to pin down. “It’s not about (not) making mistakes, because we all make mistakes,” he said. “What’s important is you learn from mistakes so they don’t happen again.”

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