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Practice With Professionalism

As a doctor, you should be honest, decent, fair, trustworthy, law-abiding and of good character. You should behave professionally and with probity. What does this mean in practice?

Probity (from the Latin probitas) is the quality of having strong moral principles: honesty and decency. You could be the most brilliant medical student or junior doctor, but your hard work could be in vain if your conduct raises concerns about your fitness to practise. Your actions should be ethical and you should uphold the reputation of the medical profession, helping to maintain public confidence in it.

Trust is the fulcrum on which the doctor–patient relationship is balanced. Patients confide in you a great deal of personal and private information, exposing a degree of intimate information usually only reserved for those close to them, such as family. A good consultation is an open one and this requires a patient’s complete and justified faith in your professionalism.

Being a professional

Your duty to be honest and open covers all aspects of your professional practice. This includes:

  • Preparing medical records
  • Record-keeping – medical records should be contemporaneous and not retrospectively altered in the event of a complaint or claim
  • Any other documents or forms you are asked to sign or complete must be comprehensive and include all relevant information
  • Giving evidence or acting as a witness – as well as being truthful when giving a spoken or written statement, you must be honest about the limitations of your knowledge and competence
  • Co-operating fully with any complaint or investigation related to your treatment of patients, including disclosing any relevant information with appropriate consent
  • Assisting with inquests or inquiries into a patient’s death.

Your CV and job applications

Even a single episode of plagiarism or dishonesty, for example in CVs and applications, could harm your chances of obtaining HPCSA registration, and your future career as a result. When applying for jobs, tell the truth. Healthcare organisations may consider dishonesty on an application form as a disciplinary matter, which may ultimately lead to termination of your contract of employment.

  • You must be honest about your experience and qualifications when applying for posts
  • Do not make any claim or statement that is not capable of being substantiated or justified
  • Own up to your mistakes – it is your responsibility to inform the HPCSA of any criminal convictions or cautions, even if they occurred before you started medical school.


Dishonesty arises when statements are made which a doctor knows (or should know) to be untrue, inaccurate, or likely to be misleading. An instance of this is providing incomplete information, or biased information, especially if this involves a conscious, deliberate decision to withhold information or to present it in a way which will alter how the information is received, understood and interpreted. Whether such acts are committed in one’s professional, business, or social life, they all have the capacity to undermine the credibility and integrity of the doctor concerned. Another example of dishonesty is cheating in professional examinations.

Writing reports and academic papers

There have also been instances where research has been misrepresented, or research findings manipulated, and situations where doctors have been found to have plagiarised the research or publications of others, presenting it as their own work.

Passing off the work of others as your own is clearly wrong, but many medics have been tempted to take ‘short cuts’ when under the pressure of large workloads, high competition, and tight deadlines. However pressured you feel, remember that plagiarism is completely unacceptable and could lead to you being subject to disciplinary action. Make sure you include references for any quotes or information gained from other publications or authors. Be especially careful when using material sourced online – although the information may appear to be freely available, you must reference everything that is not your original work.
Remember that plagiarism is completely unacceptable and could lead to you being subject to disciplinary action