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Courtesy and respect

Respect for others

Close up of male physician looking at beeper

Professionalism beyond the clinical encounter

Colleges expect a high standard of conduct from all physicians; that standard extends beyond the clinical setting.

When commenting on behavioural issues, Colleges often use terms such as conduct unbecoming, egregious, professional misconduct, or failing to meet the standard expected of the profession.

People who are not patients, such as other healthcare professionals and the public, can also complain to the College if they are dissatisfied with a physician's medical care or personal conduct.

When a complaint is made by an individual who is not a patient, the potential consequences are the same as when the complaint comes from a patient: dismissal of the complaint, counseling, written or verbal caution, or referral to a committee such as a discipline committee or a physician wellness program.

The following cases illustrate different types of complaints made by non-patients. In most such cases a complaints committee will address the issue. In more serious matters, the complaint may be heard before a disciplinary committee.

Case: Nowhere to park
Parking sign with arrow


On a busy Saturday afternoon, a physician is looking for a parking spot at a shopping mall. Fortunately, a car is just leaving a spot and the physician stops to wait until the space is clear.

Another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction is able to quickly turn into the vacant spot before the physician. An argument and physical altercation takes place.

Subsequently, the driver of the second vehicle initiates a College complaint.


The College discipline committee found that the physician "...committed an act of professional misconduct in that he engaged in conduct unbecoming of a physician." It further stated that "...abusive behaviour towards others cannot be tolerated or considered lightly. Such behaviour undermines the public's respect for and trust in the profession."

The physician was reprimanded before the committee and the result was recorded in the College register.

In addition, the physician was required to pay the College for the costs of the proceedings.

Think about it

  • Why is it necessary for physicians to be held to a higher standard of conduct than the general public in their personal lives?
  • What would you think of your family doctor if you knew that the doctor had behaved unprofessionally in a non-clinical setting?
  • Was the parking space worth the threat to the physician's licence and professional reputation?

Lessons learned

  • By statute and professional necessity, Colleges are required to hold physicians to a high standard of both professional and personal conduct.
  • Professional consequences may arise from behaviour or actions in either the professional or the personal sphere.
  • Complaints concerning professional care or personal conduct can lead to serious consequences such as the loss of licence, suspensions, fines, payment of costs, and loss of professional reputation.

Case: Unhappy breakup
Silhouette of male and female arguing


Four months after the breakup of a common-law relationship, a family physician receives notification of a College complaint lodged by her ex-partner.

The complainant alleges that she had altered his medical record without consent, and that she regularly abuses marijuana and alcohol.

Think about it

What would you do if you found yourself receiving this complaint?


With assistance from legal counsel, the family physician was able to objectively and impartially refute all assertions in her written response to the College. Supportive character testimonials were obtained from several of her colleagues.

At a meeting with the College registrar, the physician was composed, honest, and sincere.

The College dismissed the complaint.

Lessons learned

Colleges consider the evidence carefully, which may result in exoneration of the physician.