J Med Ethics. 2023 Mar 8:jme-2022-108735. doi: 10.1136/jme-2022-108735. Online ahead of print.
Incivility among physicians, between physicians and learners, and between physicians and nurses or other healthcare professionals has become commonplace. If allowed to continue unchecked by academic leaders and medical educators, incivility can cause personal psychological injury and seriously damage organisational culture. As such, incivility is a potent threat to professionalism. This paper uniquely draws on the history of professional ethics in medicine to provide a historically based, philosophical account of the professional virtue of civility. We use a two-step method of ethical reasoning, namely ethical analysis informed by pertinent prior work, followed by identifying the implications of clearly articulated ethical concepts, to meet these goals. The professional virtue of civility and the related concept of professional etiquette was first described by the English physician-ethicist Thomas Percival (1740-1804). Based on a historically informed philosophical account, we propose that the professional virtue of civility has cognitive, affective, behavioural and social components based on a commitment to excellence in scientific and clinical reasoning. Its practice prevents a dysfunctional organisational culture of incivility and sustains a civility-based organisational culture of professionalism. Medical educators and academic leaders are in a pivotal and powerful position to role model, promote and inculcate the professional virtue of civility as essential to an organisational culture of professionalism. Academic leaders should hold medical educators accountable for discharge of this indispensable professional responsibility.