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On the relationship between medical ethics and medical professionalism
  1. Michael Dunn, Associate Editor
  1. Correspondence to Michael Dunn, Department of Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, Headington, Oxford, OX3 7LF, UK; michael.dunn{at}

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The Journal of Medical Ethics strongly encourages contributions from medical students, and is one of the very few journals that retain a separate section for publishing student papers. Reflecting our desire as editors to showcase rigorous analyses of practically relevant ethical issues in healthcare, students are often ideally placed to identify novel concerns that may have been taken for granted by more senior colleagues, and to put forward ethical arguments that are acutely sensitive to the day-to-day realities of practice in which they are learning their trade.

In this issue, the ethical reflections by a student on what might seem a rather innocuous act—kissing the head of a child patient to console him after a failed attempt at cannulation—reveals some challenging questions about what it means to act professionally in a healthcare role. The article by Alamri (see page 636) and the accompanying commentary by Kerruish and Anderson (see page 638) develop arguments and counter-arguments that connect a number of points about whether such behaviours are acceptable when they take place between a healthcare professional and a child patient. One point that is immediately striking when beginning to analyse this issue is the relationship between a claim about the ethics of kissing the patient, and a broader claim about the student's professionalism. We might disagree about whether giving the patient a kiss would be ethically justifiable. Equally, we might disagree about whether such a behaviour could ever be justifiable when performed by a healthcare professional, even if we broadly agree that it was ethically defensible to kiss the patient in this instance.

This relationship between ethics and professionalism in healthcare is a complex one, as the analyses of this case illustrate. However, despite such complexity, there is a growing trend (particularly within medical education) to conflate these two …

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