Working with midwifery students, medical students and residents is one of the highlights of my job. They keep me on my toes force me to stay current in my practice. I hope they learn from me as much as I learn from them. 

The one skill I’ve recently been struggling to teach is professionalism. I’ve encountered a few students lately who have amazing clinical skills, but who are so unprofessional that it almost makes me uncomfortable. I’ve started to wonder if professionalism can be taught.

A physician colleague of mine often says that there is a very fine line between casual and unprofessional. I agree with her. That line is extremely important, but also very easy to cross if not firmly enforced and understood. I tend to be on the casual side with students and residents, and have, until recently, believed that professionalism is taught by example. 

As a preceptor and an attending midwife, I strive to be approachable and see little value in educating with intimidation. But, I am beginning to think that my casual and laid-back approach with young providers may encourage them to see me more as an equal, blurring that important line between casual and unprofessional. 

Some say that older students tend to be less professional, having had more life experiences, but  I disagree. I was an adult learner when I went back to midwifery school, and joking with my preceptors about their sex lives or using casual and frequent profanity is unacceptable to me. 

Age and experience seems to have little to do with professional behavior.  I wonder if, like bedside manner and compassion, professionalism is a skill that is difficult to teach and even more difficult to learn.

When modeling professionalism is not effective in changing behavior, what is the next step? Will blatant reprimand or negative feedback alter a student’s attitude and actions? Please share your experiences and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.