Technical Skills in Paediatrics: A Qualitative Study of Acquisition, Attitudes and Assumptions in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

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Medical Education





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PURPOSE: While the effective acquisition of technical skills is essential for excellent paediatric care, little is known about how technical skills are learned in the paediatric setting. This study sought to describe and theorise the variables influencing technical skills acquisition in a tertiary care neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) inpatient setting.

METHODOLOGY: Using non-participant field methodology, paediatric residents and their teachers (nurses, respiratory therapists, neonatal staff and fellows) were observed at various times in the NICU for 8 weeks. Thirteen semistructured interviews with these teachers and learners and 1 focus group of additional learners were conducted and used to triangulate observational findings. Using a constant comparative process, field notes, interview and focus group transcripts were analysed by 2 researchers for emergent themes in the grounded theory tradition.

RESULTS: Data sourced from over 90 hours of observation and 21 observed technical procedures, and both individual and group interviews are presented thematically. Dominant themes include: the nature, timing and purpose of feedback about technical procedures; opportunities to learn technical skills; multiple demands that intersect with technical procedure attempts; competing priorities, and teachers' and learners' differing perceptions. These themes interact to affect the learning environment.

CONCLUSION: The NICU learning environment represents a complex interplay between competing priorities, learning opportunities and attributions about learners. This interplay must be understood if improvements to technical skills training in this domain are to be developed.


Dr. Lorelei Lingard is currently a faculty member at The University of Western Ontario.