Medical student professional identity formation

  • Michelle McLean (Creator)
  • Patricia Johnson (Creator)
  • Sally J E Sargeant (Creator)



Several studies have addressed the professional identity formation and socialisation of medical students. The focus of that research, however, usually reflects the perspective of students. On their journey to “becoming” doctors, medical students may interact with faculty members (clinical and basic scientists) as well as simulated patients, nurses and other health professionals, all of whom see this professional identity formation from a different perspective.

The purpose of the present qualitative study, in addition to gathering information from students about their professional identity formation, was to also garner input from the spectrum of teachers with whom students interact over the course of their medical studies. This study is taking place at a single institution with a five-year undergraduate programme, where the majority of students enter directly from high school.

Interviews are framed by several questions, the most important being: When does one become a doctor? Are being a doctor and feeling like a doctor the same thing? What factors contribute to the development of a professional identity as a doctor? Does prior experience in a health profession impact on identity formation? What do teachers and trainers contribute to students’ socialisation into the profession? Does gender and culture impact on professional identity formation?

The transcribed interviews with students (Years 1-5), registered nurses (teach procedural skills) and simulated patients (involved in history-taking and physical examination) are being analysed. Interviews with problem-based learning facilitators, faculty members and clinical skills tutors (teach physical examination skills) are currently underway.

Different groups of teachers and trainers have provided valuable insight into professional identity formation, often drawing on their own experiences and roles as professionals in the healthcare setting. Although Anatomy, in particular dissection, was identified as a key event by learners in moving from being a student to a medical student, patient contact was identified as important in their beginning to “feel” like a doctor. Surprisingly, “becoming” a doctor for many students would happen only after several years in clinical practice. Simulated patients, on the other hand, saw even first year students as doctors in training, with many treating them as such.

The data are in SPSS and NVIVO format.

Contact the first author to determine access conditions.
Date made available2012
PublisherBond University
Date of data production2012

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