Department of Medicine Publications

Forming Professional Identities on the Health Care Team: Discursive Constructions of the 'Other' in the Operating Room

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Medical Education





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BACKGROUND: Inter-professional health care teams represent the nucleus of both patient care and the clinical education of novices. Both activities depend upon the'talk' that team members use to interact with one another. This study explored team members' interpretations of tense team communications in the operating room (OR).

METHODS: The study was conducted using 52 team members divided into 14 focus groups. Team members comprised 13 surgeons, 19 nurses, nine anaesthetists and 11 trainees. Both uni-disciplinary (n = 11) and multi-disciplinary (n = 3) formats were employed. All groups discussed three communication scenarios, derived from prior ethnographic research. Discussions were audio-recorded and transcribed. Using a grounded theory approach, three researchers individually analysed sample transcripts, after which group discussions were held to resolve discrepancies and confirm a coding structure. Using the confirmed code, the complete data set was coded using the 'NVivo' qualitative data analysis software program.

RESULTS: There were substantial differences in surgeons', nurses', anaesthetists', and trainees' interpretations of the communication scenarios. Interpretations were accompanied by subjects' depictions of disciplinary roles on the team. Subjects' constructions of other professions' roles, values and motivations were often dissonant with those professions' constructions of themselves.

CONCLUSIONS: Team members, particularly novices, tend to simplify and distort others' roles and motivations as they interpret tense communication. We suggest that such simplifications may be rhetorical, reflecting professional rivalries on the OR team. In addition, we theorise that novices' echoing of role simplification has implications for their professional identity formation.


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

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