Department of Medicine Publications

To Be and Not to Be: The Paradox of the Emerging Professional Stance

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Medical Education





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PURPOSE: Understanding how students resolve professional conflict is essential to teaching and evaluating professionalism. The purpose of this study was to refine an existing coding structure of rationalizations of student behaviour, and to further our understanding of students' reasoning strategies in the face of perceived professional lapses.

METHODS: Anonymous essays were collected from final year medical students at two universities. Each essay included a description of a specific professional lapse, and a consideration of how the lapse was dealt with. Essays were analysed using grounded theory. The resulting coding structure was applied using NVivo software.

RESULTS: Twenty essays, containing 147 instances of articulated reasoning, were included. Three major categories (and several subcategories) of reasoning strategies emerged: Narrative Attitude (deflection or reflection), Dissociation (condescension or identity mobility), and Engagement (with associated action or no action). This data set revealed a wider range of Narrative Attitude than in the original study, confirmed the dominance of Dissociation as a reasoning strategy, and, perhaps paradoxically, also revealed significant evidence of action on the part of the students (predominantly directed towards dealing with the consequences of a lapse or confronting the lapser). Most of these actions were perceived to be ineffective.

CONCLUSIONS: Encountering a professional lapse can be a paradoxical and profoundly disordering experience for students. When students report these experiences, they invoke reasoning strategies that enable them to re-story the lapse. Their methods of re-storying provide insight into the double-binds that students experience, their efforts to transcend these double-binds, and, through these, their emerging professional stance.


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

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