Medical students’ views on what professionalism means: an Ubuntu perspective

Mantoa Mokhachane*, Lionel Green-Thompson, Ann George, Tasha Wyatt, Ayelet Kuper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Medical training has become a global phenomenon, and the Physician’s Charter (PC), as a missionary document, is key to training those outside the Global North. Undergraduate and postgraduate students in the medical profession are sometimes trained in contexts foreign to their social and ontological backgrounds. This might lead to confusion and blunders, creating an impression of what might look and feel unprofessional to those unfamiliar with the local context. Understanding the cultural backgrounds of the trainees is crucial, and the reverse is also as important. It is essential for clinicians and trainees to understand the cultural backgrounds of their patients to avoid miscommunication. In this phenomenological study, we recruited participants in 2020 who were in their first to fourth year of study of medical training during the #FeesMustFall protests. We used data from this extensive study looking at students’ experiences during their training amidst protest and social upheavals in a South African tertiary institution. For this paper, we examined what professionalism means to the student participants using an African Ubuntu lens. Ubuntu and the Collective Finger theory were used to investigate what professionalism means to participants. The Ubuntu philosophy was compared to the PC. In the findings, the clinical space is hierarchical, silencing and the opposite of what Ubuntu means. In comparison to the PC, respect is overarching while compassion and responsibility are the most comparable to the Charter. This study adds an African voice to the professionalism discourse while showing African elements that could be aligned to the PC to challenge the current global discourses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-857
Number of pages17
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Medical clerkship experiences
  • Physicians Charter
  • Professionalism
  • South Africa
  • Ubuntu


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