Causes and characteristics of medical student referrals to a professional behaviour board

Pieter C. Barnhoorn*, Jan H. Bolk, Marleen W. Ottenhoff-de Jonge, Walther N. K. A. van Mook, Arnout Jan de Beaufort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: To describe the nature of unprofessional behaviour displayed by medical students, as well as the characteristics of students referred to the professional behaviour board.

Methods: A descriptive mixed methods approach was taken, in which qualitative data on unprofessional behaviour, as well as quantitative data on the demographics of referred students were collected during the study period between June 1, 2009 and January 1, 2014. In order to compare the referred students with the total student population, data on gender, nationality and phase in the curriculum of the total student population, collected from the student administration desk, were also used.

Results: In the study period, a total of 107 referrals were reported, concerning 93 different students (3% of the total student population). Sixty-five of the 107 referrals (61%) concerned male students. Thirty referrals (28%) concerned non-Dutch students. Most referrals (71%) occurred during clinical rotations. The referrals were equally distributed over three professional behaviour domains: dealing with oneself, dealing with others, and dealing with tasks/work. 'Withdrawn behaviour' was reported 17 times, 'insufficient Dutch language proficiency' 14 times, 'impertinent emails' 9 times and 'placing privacy-sensitive photos on the internet' 3 times.

Conclusions: Although only a minority of students are referred to a professional behaviour board, this study shows that student characteristics such as gender and nationality may correlate to a higher incidence of unprofessional behaviour. Further explanatory and exploratory research is needed to unravel this relationship, and to study the influence of curriculum reforms on these relationships, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-24
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Education
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


  • Professional behaviour
  • professionalism
  • professional identity formation
  • medical students
  • professional behaviour board


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