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Beyond ‘born not made’: challenging character, emotions and professionalism in undergraduate medical education
  1. Marie Allitt1,
  2. Sally Frampton2
  1. 1 School of Literature, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh School of Arts Culture and Environment, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2 History, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Marie Allitt, School of Literature, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK; marie.allitt{at}


In this article we explore the historical antecedents and ongoing perpetuation of the idea that medical professionals must adhere to a specific ‘character’. In the late nineteenth century, an ideal of the medical student as ‘born not made’ was substantiated through medical school opening addresses and other medical literature. An understanding prevailed that students would have a natural inclination that would suit them to medical work, which was predicated on class structures. As we move into the twentieth-century context, we see that such underpinnings remained, even if the idea of ‘character’ becomes ‘characteristics’. This was articulated through emerging psychological and sociological perspectives on education, as well as medical school admission processes. The significance ascribed to character and characteristics-based suitability continues to exclude and limits who can access medical careers. In the final part of the article, we argue that a framework of uncertainty can and should be mobilised to re-evaluate the role of doctors’ education and critique long-standing notions of professional identity, via the integration of medical humanities and clearer professionalism teaching within medical curricula.

  • Literature
  • History
  • medical education
  • inter-professional education
  • Medical humanities

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  • Contributors Both authors have worked equally on the planning, research and writing of this article.

  • 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.

  • Disclaimer Both authors either still or have worked on the Oxford-Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund (Grant number 204826/Z/16/Z) funded project 'Advancing Medical Professionalism: Integrating Humanities Teaching in the University of Oxford's Medical School', which utilised the Royal College of Physicians' Advancing Medical Professionalism report.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

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