Conscientious, competent and caring: producing the junior doctor of the future

John C McLachlan, Marina Sawdon, Gabrielle Finn, Karen Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is based on the Association for the Study of Medical Education Gold Medal Plenary for 2022, given by the first author. It outlines different ways in which medical training can be approached, based on his career and his work with colleagues. Among the attributes that it would be desirable to promote in future doctors are conscientiousness, competence and care for patients as individuals. This article explores each of these in separate sections. The first demonstrates that the trait of conscientiousness can be observed in first and second year medical students by their compliance in routine low level tasks such as attendance and submission of required work on time. A ‘conscientiousness index’ calculated on this basis is a statistically significant predictor of later events such as performance in exams, the prescribing safety assessment, and the UK situational judgement test in subsequent years, and also in postgraduate assessments such as Royal college exams and the annual reviews of competence progression. The second proposes that competence in tasks undertaken by junior doctors is better achieved by teaching on medical imaging, clinical skills and living anatomy than by cadaveric dissection. The final section argues that the incorporation of arts and humanities teaching into medical education is likely to lead to better understanding of the patient perspective in later practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Hospital Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date5 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 5 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Tracey Collett, Paul Tiffin and Madeline Carter to aspects of this work, and the grant support of the Wellcome Trust and the Higher Education Academy.

Funding Information:
The first approach described above explored the psychometric properties of large numbers of students, and the second describes a style of teaching interventions delivered to groups of students. But the authors were also interested in students as individuals and wished to promote reflection on their own humanity and that of their future patients. Both Peninsula Medical School and the Durham University medical programme explored the use of arts and humanities in medical education. At Peninsula, a special study component in poetry writing was funded by a grant from the Higher Education Academy, in which students spent a reflective weekend writing poetry under the guidance of an established poet (). The poems produced by the students were then voluntarily accessed almost 500 times by fellow students, showing that they had an impact well beyond the direct participants. One quote seems particularly salient. A participant wrote:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 MA Healthcare Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Anatomy teaching
  • Conscientiousness
  • Medical education
  • Medical humanities


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