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Character failings in the surgeon fallen from grace: a thematic analysis of disciplinary hearings against surgeons 2016–2020
  1. Ross Elledge1,
  2. June Jones2
  1. 1Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Health, Social Care & Medicine, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ross Elledge, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham, Birmingham, UK; ross.elledge{at}


Surgeons are commonly evaluated with respect to outcomes and adherence to rules and regulations, rather than a true holistic examination of the character of the surgeon in question. We sought to examine the character failings of surgeons who faced fitness to practice enquiries under the Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service in the UK. In particular, we examined the absence of virtue as perceived through the lens of Aristotelian ethics using thematic analysis of tribunal hearing transcripts from 2016 to 2020. We identified three overarching themes that are explored in depth: ‘the god complex’, ‘reputation over integrity’ and ‘wounded pride’. We hope to use this as the foundation for a re-examination of the place of phronesis in postgraduate surgical education, which we argue should be perceived as an exercise in character development and reformation rather than the simplistic teaching of skills to standardised outcomes.

  • surgery
  • ethics

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  • Contributors On behalf of myself and my coauthor, I can confirm that both authors have made a valid contribution to the work. Both were involved in the inception and original idea of the project, sourcing relevant material from MPTS, independent thematic analysis, discussion of the results and preparation/critical revision of the resultant manuscript. Both authors have approved the final version of the manuscript for submission and the most recent revision. Neither author has any conflicts of interest to declare.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval No patients were involved in this research. Disclosure of all records was approved by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), but all records have previously been accessible in the public domain for a finite time period. Formal ethical approval was not required and has not been sought.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available.

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