Vulnerability and Trustworthiness: Polestars of Professionalism in Healthcare

David Barnard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Although recent literature on professionalism in healthcare abounds in recommended character traits, attitudes, or behaviors, with a few exceptions, the recommendations are untethered to any serious consideration of the contours and ethical demands of the healing relationship. This article offers an approach based on the professional's commitment to trustworthiness in response to the vulnerability of those seeking professional help. Because our willingness and ability to trust health professionals or healthcare institutions are affected by our personality, culture, race, age, prior experiences with illness and healthcare, and socioeconomic and political circumstances - "the social determinants of trust" - the attitudes and behaviors that actually do gain trust are patient and context specific. Therefore, in addition to the commitment to cultivating attitudes and behaviors that embody trustworthiness, professionalism also includes the commitment to actually gaining a patient's or family's trust by learning, through individualized dialogue, which conditions would win their justified trust, given their particular history and social situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-300
Number of pages13
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 9 2016


  • healing relationship
  • professionalism
  • social determinants
  • trust
  • trustworthiness
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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