Medical identity; perspectives of students from two countries

Conor Gilligan, Teresa Loda*, Florian Junne, Stephan Zipfel, Brian Kelly, Graeme Horton, Anne Herrmann-Werner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)



The development of professional identity is a fundamental element of medical education. There is evidence that in Germany, students’ perceptions of the ideal and real doctor differ, and that of themselves as physicians falls between these constructs. We sought to compare students’ perceptions of themselves, the ideal doctor, and the ‘real’ doctor and investigate differences from first to final year in the relationships between these constructs, as well as differences between Australian and German cohorts.


Students in the first and final years of their medical program at one Australian and one German university were invited to complete the Osgood and Hofstatter polarity profile, involving the description of their mental image of the ideal and real doctor, and the doctor they hope to become, with adjectives provided. 


One hundred sixty-seven students completed the survey in Australia (121 year 1, 46 year 5) and 188 in Germany (164 year 1, 24 year 6). The perception of the ideal doctor was consistent across all respondents, but that of the real doctor and self-image differed between country and year. Differences existed between country cohorts in perceptions of ‘confidence’, ‘strength’, ‘capability’ and ‘security’. 


The pattern previously reported among German students was maintained, but a different pattern emerged among Australian students. Differences between countries could reflect cultural differences or variations in the overt and hidden curricula of medical schools. Some of the constructs within the profiles are amenable to educational interventions to improve students’ confidence and sense of capability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number420
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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