Pressure and Professionalism:
It appears (Burnout Fallout, MM SCIENCE vol. 330 no. 6002 October 15, 2010 page not numbered but under the section Editor’s Choice reviewing J. Am. Med. Assoc. 304, 1173 (2010) written by Dyrbye et al.) that someone has noticed that medical students are under a lot of pressure.  What is actually new is that they have discovered a positive relationship between the stress medical students are under and the degree to which they admit to cheating and otherwise unprofessional conduct.

My first reaction is to remember the old pilot’s adage, “A fool and his money soon get more airplane than he can handle.”  Who’s to say those students were honest before they went to medical school.  Did they cheat to get in and then find they were expected to perform as their grades suggested they were able to perform?

But actually I am surprised.  My impression in medical school and beyond was that doctors and doctor in training were amazingly good at their tasks.  Stress was manifest in their social lives, not their professional lives.  Times were lean, and I often took comfort in the fact that I had enough money to be honest.  It never occurred to me that stress might induce a person to cheat professionally.  I wouldn’t really know how.  We all just did our best.  If that was inadequate, it was not dishonest. 

But there it is.  Somebody has looked at the matter and found that indeed stress correlates with professional misconduct.  The question is raised in the review of whether that means physicians in practice also can be stressed to the point of unprofessional behavior.  I would assume that the answer is yes.  And I would assume that other professions would show the same pattern if you could test for it.

So how does this all relate to the current subject of fertility, population survival and gene pool size?  Recently we have been hearing from some experts.  This is a welcome change.  I have attempted to communicate with a number of experts in the past.  The fact that some have responded makes my heart soar like the hawk.  But early on the vast majority did not answer at all.

I hasten to say that at no point ever have I had the slightest whiff of dishonesty on anyone’s part.  I know such things happen, but I really have not been in a position to know about anything like that.  Besides, I am fairly naïve if you must know. 

While everyone’s integrity appears above approach, there had been this failure to respond to the challenge of the facts.  This subject of ours is important.  No matter what your specialty as a scientist it is important.

I would not call this reticence unprofessional, be it induced by stress or not.  But I would call it regrettable.

Things have been different lately.  I have had responses.  That is wonderful.  Maybe either professional life is getting less stressful or people are trying harder. 

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