Background: Although effective role models are important in medical education, little is known about the characteristics of physicians who serve as excellent clinical role models. We therefore conducted a case-control study to identify attributes that distinguish such physicians from their colleagues. Methods: We asked members of the internal-medicine house staff at four teaching hospitals to name physicians whom they considered to be excellent role models. A total of 165 physicians named by one or more house- staff members were classified as excellent role models (these served as the case physicians in our study). A questionnaire was sent to them as well as to 246 physicians who had residency-level teaching responsibilities but who were not named (controls). Of these 411 physicians, 341 (83 percent) completed questionnaires while unaware of their case-control status. Results: Of the 341 attending physicians who responded, 144 (42 percent) had been identified as excellent role models. Having greater assigned teaching responsibilities was strongly associated with being identified as an excellent role model. In the multi-variate analysis, five attributes were independently associated with being named as an excellent role model: spending more than 25 percent of one's time teaching (odds ratio, 5.12; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.81 to 14.47), spending 25 or more hours per week teaching and conducting rounds when serving as an attending physician (odds ratio, 2.48; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.15 to 5.37), stressing the importance of the doctor- patient relationship in one's teaching (odds ratio, 2.58; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 6.43), teaching the psychosocial aspects of medicine (odds ratio, 2.31; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.23 to 4.35), and having served as a chief resident (odds ratio, 2.07; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.07 to 3.98). Conclusions: These data suggest that many of the attributes associated with being an excellent role model are related to skills that can be acquired and to modifiable behavior.
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