Friday, September 23, 2011

The Singapore Medical Council Physician's Pledge - respect for teachers

Upon graduation, all newly minted doctors in Singapore have to take the SMC Physician's Pledge. The pledge is our local adaptation of the Hippocratic Oath and the similarities are obvious if you lay them out side by side.

In the original Hippocratic Oath, the very first para addresses the issue of respecting your teachers. It reads :

"TO RECHON him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look up his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according the law of medicine, but to none others."

I guess it was something very important to Hippocrates, or at least to the Hippocratic School.

Our SMC Physician's Pledge more succinctly states "give due respect and gratitude to my teachers". That it is placed second only to "dedicate my life to service of humanity" but before all the other practice related oaths also indicates the relative importance of such a value.

Unfortunately though, as undergraduate medical teachers, few of us observe the expression of this in the hallowed halls of learning. In fact a common refrain among medical teachers is that medical student behaviour is arguably the worst among the undergraduate population. They come late for class, talk, send text messages, surf the net, and play with their smart phones during lectures. And generally are somewhat lacking with respect to respecting their teachers. I do have to qualify that the above probably applies to only a section, and perhaps only a very visible minority of the medical student population. Yet it is a significant enough segment to create the impression that there is very little respect in the class for the teacher who is in front of them trying to start a lecture.

I have always wondered why this is so. Perhaps it is because the students have not yet been exposed to these noble values as articulated in the Physician's Pledge. It does seem a bit late to take an oath to respect your teachers only after you have graduated, and after having spent 5 years abusing your teachers. Perhaps the medical students ought to take a earlier version of the Physician's Pledge, a Physician's Pledge Lite, for example, that might encourage them to consider value systems they need to cultivate and express during their undergraduate years.

Some shrug their shoulders, capitulating to the idea that this bad behaviour is really just our local manifestion of the global modern 'Gen Z plus' university student phenotype. But I disagree. I have been to universities in Japan, Korea and even Taiwan where University and Medical School teachers are held in high respect and where students are appropriately deferential to their seniors and their professors. And it seems like the non-medical student classes in the NUS are somewhat better behaved.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not arguing here for blind submissiveness. I am all for a fiercely independantly thinking medical students. Students who can be clear minded and innovative enough to challenge traditional professional paradigms. But our students need to be taught that the development of independent and creative thinking does not mean a jettisoning of responsibility and respect for others.... especially their teachers.

So Minister Heng Swee Keat, please have a look at our universities and medical schools as well.


dancingbunny said...

It is not only medical students. Generally, most students do not hold their teachers and the lab technicians in high regards when it comes to class. I taught as a lab technician at a local polytechnic before I switch to a local university with a similar job scope. Trust me, poly or university, the behaviour of the students are equally bad. Worse when it comes to treating technicians. They literally think that we are their maids.

Although they are some nice students around. I reckon it has got something to do with their upbringing. Those who hailed from rich families with maids tend to treat everyone else like maids.

gigamole said...


I guess I expect better from students who profess to nobler values and aspirations. The medical school should take this more seriously than just pandering to students expectations. Many have pointed to the loss of their moral authority as they pursue student popularity and school rankings.

Anonymous said...

I think whilst many things you have mentioned in this post are true about medical students, I still think that we hold give our tutors utmost respect. I agree that sometimes we walk in late for lectures or appear to be using our phones during class, but one has to look at the circumstance of the situation. Very often (save for the minority who arnt worth defending), we come in late only because the previous lecture/tutorial ended late or we were caught up with some sort of ward work; also, during the tutorial or lecture, we may just want to do a quick check on something the lecturer said in passing which sounds all so familiar but has unfortunately slipped our mind. The medical apps allow us to quickly search for the mechanism of action or side effects of a drug (which we unfortunately learnt too long ago)to still that burning desire of not knowing something we thought we ought to know. After all, all our lecturers/tutors seem to think we ought to know everything. And of course theres a 1001 other medical apps like medcalculators to calculate some thing or other that we may need in the lecture.

While i cannot disagree there are some black sheep around (as with every other profession/course), I think its important to look at the circumstance/nature of the situation before passing judgement on us poor and stressed med students who really do hold our tutors in very high regard.

gigamole said...

Fair 'nuff.
I think everyone is aware that the 'bad behaviour' and the apparent disrespect is really associated with a minority of the class. Unfortunately though, that minority is a very vocal and significant minority, and which which also seems to be increasing in numbers over the years.

I actually struggled with the idea of posting about this issue. In fact I had deleted an original post but then decided finally to repost. I guess I hoped that confronting the issue up front may cause the student population to reflect a bit on the impression their behaviour is giving to their teachers. Such values are difficult to enforce, and it is always better that the behavioural adjustments be made from within rather than imposed from without.

I think most teachers (also got some bad hats, I must confess)tend to regard their students somewhat affectionately and almost maternally/paternally. And like most parents feel kinda hurt when students appear disrespectful.

dancingbunny said...

I agree that most teaching staff, whether tutor or technicians, we regard our students like they are our children. They are in a way, very much like our children. We nurture them and when they are under our wings, we will hope to protect and teach them everything we know much like a hen will have protect and teach her chicks.

But some students just have no regards for the older generations whether is it teacher or their own parents. Of course the assuring thing is that, students like this are the minority.

I have parents who came to me asking about their children's curriculum because they have no idea what their children is doing in poly. I think that is sad. Because this shows that the parents-child understanding is so little. Either the child is not communicating or the parents are too busy earning money. (Definitely not to make ends meet because that girl lives in landed property)

I have an example of a boy asking my colleague (another technician) is it true that technician don't earn much. The lecturer, stepped in to say that, that is why students should treat technicians nicely. The boy retort : Why should I? It is their job.

Seriously, if he will to say this to me, I will think twice before rendering him help in class next time. We have names, these students will not call us by our names. Instead, they will call us TO. (It means Technical Officer)

I felt pathetic. I am just a TO with no name in the eyes of the students.

gigamole said...

I do empathize with you.

Somehow our school system went down the road of defining the student as a customer who has purchased the right to an education (or certificate). Consequently the prevailing attitude is that everything in school exists to service him/her.

Somehow our Education Ministry thinks this is a far better system than what we had in the past. *sigh*... Unfortunately many parents reinforce these warped attitudes.